Welcome to Letters From Quotidia Postscripts Episode 3– a podcast by Quentin Bega for listeners who enjoyed that Irish phenomenon- the crack! in the 200+ Letters and Postcards From Quotidia over the past 17 months. Quotidia remains that space, that place, where ordinary people lead ordinary lives. But where, from time to time, they encounter the extraordinary.
Flip a coin, the sky or the sea. Both are in my mind and dreams. Like all Celts, I look skywards fearing, in an atavistic corner of my soul, that the firmament may crash down on me. Here on earth trolls, goblins, and monsters storm over the land despoiling as they go. Far above the world there is no respite: it seems only billionaires may soar over the polluted atmosphere of the ravaged earth, for however short a while they are able to big-note themselves.
But look out to sea and, like many hundreds of generations of human beings before, there is the promise of something better lying over that beckoning far horizon. That is, if you can look beyond the assortment of trash and smears of oil washing in on the tide that seems to advance just a little further each time- just ask any islander of the South Pacific micro nations. Or better still, listen to this poem, Seawall soliloquy number two: she built a seawall by Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner, climate envoy for the Marshall Islands:
My cousin/ had a nightmare /that we kept /building seawalls /higher and higher /all around /our island / up to /the sky /until suddenly /we were /at the bottom/ of a wishing well/looking/ up /at the world. Kathy writes, seawalls have, inevitably, become a part of my life—these walls that our community builds in our backyards to protect ourselves from the incoming tides.
You can experience the full impact of the poem at that great site, Poem-a-Day for 31 May 2022 where the poem is shaped like a well on the screen. At the conclusion of the last podcast, I promised listeners that the blue tinge characteristic of the Postscripts would, on this occasion, assume a more serene, Uranian tint. Wikipedia helpfully defines it thus: a bright neon azure colour having an approximate luminance of 85%. It has a hue value of 202° indicating that this is a cold colour. You may judge how successful I have been in lightening the colour palette of the Postscript at its end. I’ll start by reciting that staple of school poetry anthologies, James Reeves’, The Sea, which is basically an extended metaphor:
The sea is a hungry dog, /Giant and grey. /He rolls on the beach all day./With his clashing teeth and shaggy jaws/Hour upon hour he gnaws/The rumbling, tumbling stones,/And ‘Bones, bones, bones, bones! ‘/The giant sea-dog moans,/Licking his greasy paws.//And when the night wind roars/And the moon rocks in the stormy cloud,/He bounds to his feet and snuffs and sniffs,/Shaking his wet sides over the cliffs,/And howls and hollos long and loud.//But on quiet days in May or June,/When even the grasses on the dune/Play no more their reedy tune,/With his head between his paws/He lies on the sandy shores,/So quiet, so quiet, he scarcely snores.//
Seems appropriate that we should have a song about the sea now: but first let me set the scene from my store of memory. My father, in the front room at home where he had his desk, books and audio equipment: he is doing paperwork for the RNLI as honorary secretary of the Red Bay branch of this worthy institution. RNLI stands for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution founded in 1824 to provide a search and rescue service for the coasts of Britain and Ireland. Made up of 95% volunteers, separate from the coastguard and independent of government, this venerable organisation, which has royal patronage, has rescued countless thousands of people over almost 200 years of operation. But sometimes at tragic cost, as the next song, written by Peggy Seeger, relates. The Lifeboat Mona is the something old offering of this podcast: [insert song]
For the something new component, I will be offering something that is bound to attract shouts of Cheat! Fraud! Imposter! from an assortment of purists, pedants and the puerile. You see, once again, I am setting lyrics written by yet another American poet, to music and melody written by me. Eugene Field, whose whimsical poem Wynken, Blynken and Nod featured in an earlier Letter, gets a posthumous co-writer’s credit as I use it in its entirety here! But , hey, I’m not Robinson Crusoe in this regard, either: artists who have used this little gem for their own songs include, Donovan, The Irish Rovers and Carly Simon.
Back to Eugene Field: his father, Roswell Martin Field, was an attorney who attained some fame, in 1857, after serving as lawyer to Dredd Scott before Scott’s trial went to the Supreme Court. Scott was a slave who agitated for his freedom, and this was sometimes referred to as the lawsuit that started the Civil War. Eugene Field endures as a famous childhood poet to this day. But he was also an inveterate practical joker from his schooldays where according to Wikipedia, he was not a serious student and spent much of his time…playing practical jokes. He led raids on the president’s wine cellar, painted the president’s house school colours, and fired the school’s landmark cannons at midnight.
Now, this is a predilection that I’ll admit to having succumbed to from time to time in my younger days, when I was not so empathetic as I am in these my, um, senior years. According to the Denver Public Library, Eugene was known throughout Denver for his practical jokes. His office at the Denver Tribune included a chair with a false bottom. An unsuspecting person would attempt to sit in the chair and fall to the floor instead. Ouch! Today, lawsuits would, doubtless, follow! But back to the song- I have used a melody I derived from a Band-in-a-Box Irish jig setting in 6/8 time. [insert song]
Now, to the final component of the Postscript: something borrowed. Of course, borrowed is such a weasel word. Often the item or idea borrowed is not so much borrowed as, purloined, pilfered, filched or finagled, by a feloniously inclined footpad, perhaps? In the etiquette of folksingers, it is only right and proper to accord to fellow musicians, with whom you are in consort, the courtesy of not making off with their material. Don’t steal their thunder and for goodness’ sake! whatever you do, don’t sing songs from their repertoire. You know, of course, from this long-winded prolegomenon, that that’s exactly what I intend to do!
The song I will present as the final offering of this Postscript is Donegal Danny. Regular listeners to the site will have encountered the song before in Letters From Quotidia Postcards Edition 19 published on 21st May 2021. Sung in that instance by Sam Beggs, who put his dibs on this song years and years ago before Jim, who usually sings songs about the sea in our group Banter, was able to claim it! But Sam didn’t like its length and would, typically, leave out one of the middle verses- not that our audiences ever noticed, as I recall. But we would rib him about it as you can hear from the, ah, banter, before the song in Postcard 19. Donegal Danny was written by Phil Coulter, and this is what Phil had to say about the song from his lockdown podcast of 9 January 2021:
Many years ago, when on holiday in West Donegal, I was told the story of a local fishing boat that had been lost at sea and how that tragedy had reverberated around the community, with so many families affected. That incident was the starting point for writing the song. As a songwriter I was in the happy position of having The Dubliners on hand as one of my recording acts, so I tailored the song to suit Ronnie Drew. It was released on the album PLAIN AND SIMPLE in 1973. All these years later I’m pleased that the song is still alive, thanks in no small measure to balladeers like Roy Buckley who have been keeping the tradition alive. Yes, Phil, and overseas as well, thanks to singers like Sammy Beggs. But here is my version. [insert song]
So, Quotidians, have I managed to lighten to colour palette of this post? In any case, I look forward to speaking to you all again in a mere fortnight’s time. Until then, take care, stay safe and try not venture out onto those wild & stormy seas.
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. I use the Band in a Box/RealBand 2022 combo for music composition.