Letters From Quotidia Episode 140 Rambling Robin, Staircase Wit

Letters From Quotidia Episode 140 Rambling Robin, Staircase Wit

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, episode 140 – 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.

Irish folk legend, that modern minstrel, Christy Moore, sang  Rambling Robin as the last song on his 1972 album Prosperous. This is where I first heard the band that was later to become Planxty. Moore wrote in the liner notes: I learned this song from Mike Harding of Manchester just before I made this record. Most large families have at least one Rambling Robin, and like the prodigal son he always returns, but in this case the fatted calf was not to be had. This is one of my favourite folk songs to perform.

My earliest memory, though, of people who wander the roads was from a publication I came across as  a voracious reader of books from the attic  of our house in Cushendall, The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp, by W H Davies. I would have been 12 or 13 at the time, at home for the summer holidays from Aruba, which was an island paradise I was to leave the very next year. His adventures, related in easy-to-read prose, held my attention- and my regard for him deepened when I later came across examples of his poetry in 1960s school anthologies. W. H. Davies was born 3 July 1871 and died on 26 September 1940. He was a Welsh poet and writer but spent a significant part of his life as a tramp in the UK and Canada and the US, where he would have been termed a hobo.

His most famous poem is Leisure and who does not know the first couplet from that poem: What is this life if, full of care,/We have no time to stand and stare?/ But I want to give you, unabridged, his poem A Plain Life, that seems to encapsulate his, ah, mission statement it might be called by corporate types: No idle gold — since this fine sun, my friend,/Is no mean miser, but doth freely spend.//No precious stones — since these green mornings show,/Without a charge, their pearls where’er I go.//No lifeless books — since birds with their sweet tongues/Will read aloud to me their happier songs.//No painted scenes — since clouds can change their skies/A hundred times a day to please my eyes.//No headstrong wine — since, when I drink, the spring/Into my eager ears will softly sing./No surplus clothes — since every simple beast/Can teach me to be happy with the least.//

I often dreamed, in those days, of emulating the super-tramp, of being one of those who dare to choose the alternative path, the road not taken: to grab life by the scruff of the neck! Alas, the only thing I grabbed in such a fashion was a book or piece of music I was intent on hunkering down with! Here’s my Band-in-the-Box version of Rambling Robin. [insert song]

Isn’t it great to be in a comfortable majority? You can feel confident that your stance on issues of contention is supported by most of your fellows. You are not likely to be fearful that your appearance will attract hostile looks or, worse, actions. And when you bring along food to a festive occasion you will not suffer the indignity of your hosts wrinkling their noses in disgust at the odours emanating from your casserole dish, for you have been nurtured from the same cuisine as have they.

But majoritarianism is not always your preferred position, is it? Should you finally achieve admittance to an exclusive club with highly restricted membership, you may well fight tooth and nail to prevent a relaxing of the rules that you have so recently, and narrowly, negotiated to gaze condescendingly on the milling masses clamouring for a place within the hallowed halls you had hoped to long enjoy with just a few favoured friends. Hello? Karen here! We need a philosopher right now to sort out this problem.

But what I do know is that being in the majority is not always so comfortable. According to Wikipedia: It has been estimated that nearly 70% of individuals will experience signs and symptoms of impostor phenomenon at least once in their life. First defined by Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes in 1978,  as an individual experience of self-perceived intellectual phoniness, it may be accompanied by anxiety, stress, rumination, or depression. Me? Never mind once! I’ve suffered from imposter phenomenon throughout my existence. A recurring dream is one where I am standing in the wings, waiting to go on stage, but I am filled with dread because I have neglected to learn my lines.

I wrote about this endemic feeling of inadequacy in a piece of doggerel I put in a journal I kept in my mid-twenties: Twenty-five and nothing done/And at this age, to do/So nothing doing?/ Feel my form and find it false/ But am I just a fake/ Or merely faking?// This phenomenon knows no boundaries of gender, class, ethnicity or occupation, numbering among its sufferers politicians, poets, billionaires, actors, writers, musicians and comedians. In my case, it is also accompanied by a phenomenon known as espirit d’ escalier or staircase wit. This term derives from an account by the French philosopher, encyclopedist and art critic Denis Diderot of a humiliation he suffered at a dinner held in the home of the statesman, Jacques Necker, who was the finance minister for the French king Louis XVI.

A remark was made that left him speechless and drove him from the table. On the way down the stairs from the contretemps he came up with just the right retort- but too late, as he had left the company dining and laughing in the room above. As a corrective for all these neuroses, I need look no further than one of my favourite poets, Rudyard Kipling, and to his much-loved poem, If. Funny how much heft a two-letter word can have. I would quote it in its entirety, if space allowed, but you probably know it anyway. I’ll just give the final four lines of the poem: If you can fill the unforgiving minute/With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,/  Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,/   And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!/ Of course, it is entirely OK to substitute the words woman and daughter for Man and son- and never mind that it wrecks the scansion and rhyme-scheme of the poem- it’ll survive it.

I wrote the song, Staircase Wit, in 1981 as a commentary on my shyness and stage-fright and my tendency to freeze under pressure. I may have overcome these challenges to some degree over the decades, but I still dream of being able to approach the composure under trying circumstances of, say, a surgeon in the Emergency Department of a major metropolitan hospital or the sangfroid of the pilot, Captain Sullenberger, who landed a plane full of people in the Hudson back in 2009- with the loss of no lives after his aircraft was incapacitated when the engines lost power due to an encounter with a flock of birds. In one of those nice ironies, Tom Hanks, who is reputed to suffer from imposter syndrome, played the role of the heroic captain in the movie, Sully, in 2016!

I’ll finish on this topic with a quatrain from another sufferer from imposter syndrome, Maya Angelou. It’s from her inspirational poem, Still I Rise: You may shoot me with your words,/You may cut me with your eyes,/You may kill me with your hatefulness/But still, like air, I’ll rise/ Here’s the final song for 2021- Staircase Wit. [insert song]

And that concludes the 140 podcasts for the pandemic year 2021. I started publishing these back in mid-January and I finish now in mid-December. Encompassing 140 folk songs and tunes, 140 original compositions as well as prose, poetry and lyrics totalling over 150,000 words, comprising 40 hours of podcast time- doesn’t seem much, does it?- but I’m exhausted. So now I’ll take a break: just the traditional furlough-length of four weeks, which I hope is long enough to recharge the batteries, gather my thoughts and, I hope, return to the fray, having bested, if only temporarily, my current and hovering, contemporaneous nemesis, writer’s block! Best wishes for the holiday season and new year to you and yours from Quentin Bega- a proud citizen of the republic of Quotidia.

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

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