Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, episode 139 – 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 the end of episode 138 I whinged about the fact that the only reward the muses left me for my hard labour in the salty mines of writer’s block was the first song of this post called Logoland. But, not wishing to anger the muses, I will refuse to examine the mouth of this particular gift horse and, so, I’ll just make the most of it- hoping that an exploration the topic yields something that, if not novel, at least holds some interest for an audience.
Now, I can’t prove it, but I think the first logo was actually daubed on the entrance to a cave-dwelling and the prehistoric tribe got to know that this was the doorway to desire. What the mechanism of exchange was, I don’t know for sure, nor whether the desire advertised was carnal or spiritual, or, perhaps, both. But fast forward to 1389, where, according the site 99designs.com.au, King Richard II of England passed a law requiring establishments that brewed beer to hang a sign indicating what they did (or risk having their ale confiscated). This led to businesses differentiating themselves by adding heraldic images to their signs. One pub would become The Green Dragon, another the Two Cocks.
And talking of ale, when I was last in Auckland, New Zealand, before the pandemic made trans-Tasman jaunts a thing of the past, I visited the Shakespeare Hotel in Alfred Street and bought a Tee shirt featuring a quote from Henry V Act 3 scene 2 I would trade all my fame for a pot of ale. We incautious consumers are invited to imagine that this is the Bard himself speaking, or some other illustrious personage. The truth is less uplifting: shall I enlighten you?
We find three wastrels, about whom I have written in earlier posts. Pistol, Bardolf and Nym, who, in their usual cowardly fashion, are hanging back from the siege of Harfluer- this was a real event which took place between 18 August – 22 September 1415. They are with a boy with no name- and it is he, who utters the well-known saying. His full utterance was: Would I were in an alehouse in London, I would give all my fame for a pot of ale and safety. Somewhat anachronistically, I imagine that the sign swinging outside the alehouse referred to by the boy and counting among its patrons the scoundrelly trio Pistol, Bardolf and Nym, I imagine that the swinging sign features a white feather.
So, be careful what you buy into! How does that old Latin admonition go? Caveat emptor! Buyer beware. With the invention of the printing press logos began to proliferate as merchants advertising theirp wares and services began to seek points of difference between themselves and their competitors by the use of slogans and logos in the evolving print media. By the time Frank Mason Robinson designed the Coca Cola logo in 1885 the gentle lapping waves of logos from earlier times became a tsunami which is still washing over the globe today. Which one of us, amidst the churning surf of brands we are caught up in, is not wearing something that corporations have spent billions persuading us to consume.
Shall we start with the feet? How are you shod? Does the Nike swoosh feature? How about the lower limbs? If covered by denim, do the pockets or tag at the belt loops provide an iconic jeans identifier? As for Tee shirts- too easy- what percentage of you are draped in just a plain old sweat? On to the head, now- what make of sunglasses do you display on your pretty face to make the rest envious? OK, so you’re a monk and wear only sack cloth. Good for you, but why are you listening to my podcast? Ah, penance. I understand, brother. Your superior must be a bit of a bastard, though, eh? Listen now to, Logoland, and I hope it is not too much of a penance for the monks among you or, indeed, the more orgiastically inclined! [insert song]
The next song is a hymn- actually more a frenetic tongue-twisting chatterfest- to gluttony-which is one of the seven deadly sins. The others are pride, greed, wrath, envy, lust, and sloth. Margaret Atwood, in The Penelopiad, has this to say about it: Nothing helps gluttony along so well as eating food you don’t have to pay for yourself. In our final song for this post, the eponymous hero tries to get away without paying- with painful results.
But before we come to that- how about some poetry? I first came upon the poet Seamus Heaney at Trench House where I was a student from 1968-1972. I read his first book of poetry, Death of a Naturalist in 1969. Although only a published poet for a few years at this time, his reputation was already substantial in Belfast. Later, of course, he became “famous Seamus” and snagged a Nobel prize for literature. But back to the Belfast of 1969. I found a wonderful poem about excess in that volume, first published in 1966. I am referring to the poem,Blackberry-picking. Heaney describes a childhood memory of gathering, in late August, blackberries.
The first fruit eaten is redolent of Eden. summer’s blood was in it/Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for/ Picking… which drives the boy, almost in a frenzy, to accumulate as many of the berries as can be gathered in a variety of containers he rushes to fill. The first stanza ends with more than an inkling of the denouement: …on top big dark blobs burned/Like a plate of eyes./… our palms sticky as Bluebeard’s./ Heaney conveys wonderfully the pointlessness of getting, getting, getting more and more in the final lines where the cans, are emptied into an old bath in the byre but the boy discovers, with the bitterness that children feel keenly at the outrageous unfairness of the universe: That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot./Each year I hoped they’d keep, knew they would not./
As a student becoming ever more acquainted with hangovers, I knew the feeling: utilizing ethanol, you pursue that magic buzz where the senses open up and the mind and tongue race across acres of possibility chasing after the zig-zag hare, crack- not cocaine, now, but the Irish noun synonymous with enjoyment- and you pour the pints down until you stumble over your feet or your thickening tongue where the fur accumulates during the stentorian snoring night and, when you reach for the sacramental analgesics in the head-splitting morning light, hands shaking, water dribbling down past a mouth barely able to swallow the pain-relieving tablets, you swear, never again, never again! And yet you know you will, that very night.
So on to the Dionysian praise of excess that is Johnny McEldoo. I first heard it from an LP recorded by The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, This was a live album of traditional Irish folk songs performed at The Gate of Horn night club in Chicago. It had the title, Hearty and Hellish! and was their second album for Columbia Records. In a January 1963 article, Time Magazine selected Hearty and Hellish! as one of the top 10 albums of 1962. Robert Shelton, writing in The New York Times, favourably compared the album to the group’s Grammy nominated first Columbia record, A Spontaneous Performance Recording. He considered Hearty and Hellish! to be “much more representative of these gifted performers.” Although, to my ears they are fairly similar. Here’s Johnny! [insert song]
You know who would have been game for that epic binge? Sir Toby Belch from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, one of the finest romantic comedies in all literature. He was a real party lad and one night he was revelling away with acquaintances, in the court of his niece, Olivia, who was in mourning for her recently deceased brother. His roistering is interrupted by Olivia’s steward, Malvolio, who bids him desist! Sir Toby, outraged at being upbraided by a servant, retorts: Art any more than a steward? Dost thou think because thou art virtuous there shall be no more cakes and ale? He sends Malvolio packing with the following advice: Go sir, rub your chain with crumbs. Olivia’s gentlewoman, Maria, who had come in a bit earlier on a similar mission- to bid the revellers to be quiet now becomes the focus of Sir Toby’s attention, A stope of wine, Maria.
Malvolio, unable to say anything more to the intemperate Sir Toby, turns to Maria and snarls, Mistress Mary, if you priz’d my lady’s favour at anything more than contempt, you would not give means for this uncivil rule. She shall know of it, by this hand! And this annoys Maria so much that she sets in train a prank that will see the pompous, puritanical Malvolio humiliated a bit further along in this wonderful play. But now, it’s time to tell you about the final post of the pandemic year 2021.
The first item on the agenda is an old English folk song with the name, Rambling Robin, a favourite song of mine and one that I have performed quite a few times over the decades. The final song of the calendar year is one I composed back in the early 1980s, Staircase Wit. I’ll explain the strange title in Letters From Quotidia Episode 140. I’ll leave you with a nugget of wisdom from the hemock-sipping sage, Socrates: He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have. Ah well, he’s got me all figured out. How about you?
Credits: All written text, song lyrics andmusic (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