Welcome to Letters from Quotidia Postscripts Episode 20– a podcast by Quentin Bega for listeners who enjoyed that Irish phenomenon- the crack! in the Letters, Postcards and Postscripts from Quotidia published since the beginning of 2021. Quotidia remains that space, that place, where ordinary people lead ordinary lives. But where, from time to time, they encounter the extraordinary.
In the previous Postscript I stated that I would offer more of the same, that is, a potpourri of poetry, song, and discursive musings. That’s true, but as this is the last Postscript, I decided to supersize it and offer five original songs from the 200+ Letters, Postcards, and Postscripts that have been published over the past 22 months. I’ll offer snippets from the five accompanying texts to set the scene and insert appropriate poetic texts as the need arises.
I’ll start with the first song I ever wrote. Here’s a bit from the 50th Letter, I see a gawky, 16-year-old with acne and a cheap guitar trying to impress his girlfriend (now wife) with his prowess on the fretboard. This is made rather difficult by the high action and rusting strings of the instrument and low degree of skill of the guitar’s owner. The high action made it difficult to hold down the chords with any facility or, indeed, accuracy and the teenage show-off made much of his ability to play runs on the top two strings (the thinnest of the bunch) that made a modicum of musical sense. Being a mid-teen and therefore very cynical and worldly-wise I cracked on that I was beyond the appreciation of country music having thrown my lot in with the Stones, Beatles, Who and any rock or pop act that was current. Acts from my younger and more foolish life, shared with parents and older siblings, such as Hank Williams, Jim Reeves, Marty Robbins and Johnny Cash were thoroughly scorned and discounted. Strange, then, that my first composition was recognisably of just that despised genre. It was a parody, yes, and, as it turns out, incomplete, for I had only the first section, lyrically and musically, when first I flashed my song-writing credentials to my mildly amused partner. It took another dozen years to add a couple of sections to make it more than a fragment. Here is that song written over fifty years ago. [insert song]
On to Song 2. I wrote in Letter 27: what follows is a song of praise to the tradies who work long hours for little in the way of glory. I heard about the protagonist of the song when the members of the folk band I was playing in were talking about big drinkers we had encountered during our working lives. Paddy is based on a sheet-metal worker from inner Sydney, during the boom times of the mid-70s. Now, there is no doubt in my mind that most workers, given the unfettered choice, would down tools, so to speak and get on with a life suddenly expanded with alluring opportunities now that work was no longer needed to pay the bills and mortgage. A. E. Housman has an opinion about this that many would share, Yonder see the morning blink:/The sun is up, and up must I,/To wash and dress and eat and drink/And look at things and talk and think/And work, and God knows why.//Oh often have I washed and dressed/And what’s to show for all my pain?/Let me lie abed and rest:/Ten thousand times I’ve done my best/ And all’s to do again.// [insert song]
One of the decisions I made fairly early on was that that I would not seek the pedestal position some parents want; that yes, I would be as good a Dad as I could be to my kids but that I would let them see my feet of clay. Some would say that, in this, at least, I was an over-achiever. The phrase, feet of clay, comes from the Book of Daniel in the Bible and I now realise that I should have chosen another metaphor to puncture childish idolatry because we are in the presence of a hero, Judaic rather than Greco-Roman, a seer and a prophet rather than a strong-man, Daniel divines and interprets the Dream of Nebuchadnezzar where a statue with a gold head, silver arms and breast, copper belly and thighs, iron legs and mixed iron and clay feet is destroyed by a rock. The Babylonian seers were unable to achieve this and were put to death: Daniel, is raised to power. I quoted from Ian Mudie’s poem My Father Began as a God as an illustration of how so many change and change again in their assessment of a parent; first idolising as most children do their parents, Strange then how he shrank and shrank/until by my time of adolescence/he had become a foolish small old man/with silly and outmoded views/of life and of morality./But then things change again, as I became older/his faults and his intolerances/scaled away into the past,/revealing virtues/such as honesty, generosity, integrity.//Strangest of all/how the deeper he recedes into the grave/the more I see myself/as just one more of all the little men/who creep through life/not knee-high to this long-dead god. I wrote this song, hoping that, in an ideal world, I might turn out to be like the protagonist in the opinion of my children, feet of clay notwithstanding. It’s the demo I give here rather than the full rock band version of Letter 20. [insert song]
I’ve had cats and dogs as pets over the years and have appreciated the qualities of each. Every dog will have his day, and my last pet, a miniature fox terrier, we named Maggs after the Peter Carey character who, in turn, was based on the Charles Dickens’ character Abel Magwitch from Great Expectations. Lots of people go to Dickens for dog names: Barley, Browdie, Dodger, Duff, Granger, Jasper, Nubbles, Fluff- that last one I made up for the euphony. But the rest are suggested as suitable labels for our canine companions. For ten years Maggs kept the family company before succumbing to heart problems. My grief for the dog was real and on his final day, I sat on the back step listening to his laboured breathing, watching the stars come out, stroking his bony head and recalling Hopkin’s Spring and Fall: Margaret, are you grieving/Over Goldengrove unleaving/Now no matter child the name/Sorrow’s springs are the same/Ah as the heart grows older/It will come to such sights colder/It is the blight man was born for/It is Margaret you mourn for. [insert song]
For my final song, from Letter 113, I referenced my love of the song writing of Brian Wilson first heard as a 13-year-old in Aruba where I was enjoying the music. Edmund Blunden’s The Midnight Skaters popped into my mind. How incongruous! was my initial reaction. A poem which describes a rustic pre-war setting among the hop-fields of Kent on a frozen pond seems a million miles from the affluent bubble that was the expatriate community of Aruba in the early sixties. The hop-poles stand in cones,/The icy pond lurks under,/The pole-tops steeple to the thrones/Of stars, sound gulfs of wonder;/But not the tallest thee, ’tis said,/Could fathom to this pond’s black bed. But as I pondered the intrusion of this poem into my reverie, I realised that the distance of age gave me perspective, as it did, with so much more effect, this wonderful English poet, then is not death at watch/Within those secret waters? /What wants he but to catch/Earth’s heedless sons and daughters? /With but a crystal parapet/Between, he has his engines set.
Aren’t we all earth’s heedless sons and daughters? And don’t you, like me, fall on your knees in thankfulness for our poets who tell us our innermost secrets and reveal to us a common language that we did not know we owned until they shared it with us? Over the years, I have heard the bell toll for so many of those who have shared that dancefloor. And not only my companions on that Caribbean crystal parapet, but those who have shared the dance with me in Ireland and Australia, Then on, blood shouts, on, on, /Twirl, wheel and whip above him, /Dance on this ball-floor thin and wan, / Use him as though you love him;/Court him, elude him, reel and pass, /And let him hate you through the glass. As I grow older, I become more grateful for the largesse bestowed upon me by those artists, present and past, who grow my soul. [insert song]
And that concludes the Letters, Postcards and Postscripts from Quotidia. Don’t know what is left…footnotes? Ahh, we’ll see, but- so long!
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. I use the Band in a Box/RealBand 2022 combo for music composition.