Welcome to Letters From Quotidia- the Footnotes, Slainte 1 It’s a bit of a mouthful, I know but let me be clear. The mouthful also refers to farewell drinks which are common around this time of the year. It’s been a long and eventful journey for the Letters From Quotidia as a whole and even the lowly Footnotes have had a good run, but all good things must come to an end and as we toast the end, and also, new beginnings, let us, without further ado define what Slainte means. It means “health” in Irish and Scottish Gaelic and has spread across the world, particularly among the whiskey-drinking fraternities. Slainte 1 is the penultimate post for the year and well start with a song of farewell. Foss Hill, The Old Comedian [insert song]
Time now for some poetry. Change upon Change, by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, tells of false love, Three months ago, the stream did flow,/The lilies bloomed along the edge;/ And we were lingering to and fro,/— Where none will track thee in this snow,/ Along the stream, beside the hedge/. Ah! sweet, be free to come and go;/For if I do not hear thy foot,/The frozen river is as mute,—/The flowers have dried down to the root;/And why, since these be changed since May,/Shouldst thou change less than they?//And slow, slow as the winter snow,/The tears have drifted to mine eyes;/And my two cheeks, three months ago,/Set blushing at thy praises so,/ Put paleness on for a disguise./Ah! sweet, be free to praise and go;/For if my face is turned to pale,/It was thine oath that first did fail,— It was thy love proved false and frail!/And why, since these be changed, I trow/Should I change less than thou?// But not all love proves false-just as well for the human race, eh- and at this time of year we ought to offer a corrective in this song from long ago called, Changes, [insert song]
Continuing the theme of Change, we need to think about starting over. We’ve all had to do it, nothing lasts forever, not even that huge gobstopper you crammed into your mouth as a child. Back at Letter 13 I considered the inevitability of things , rather grandiosely, by incorporating the universe and a house brick in a thought experiment: Let’s reduce the universe to your bare foot resting on the ground and a house brick poised thirty-two feet above it. Now, let the brick accelerate downwards subject to the earth’s normal gravitational force. In about one second you will be screaming in pain. Quantum mechanics, however, will rush into the fray to assure you that indeterminism is woven into the fabric of the universe, so, perhaps, that brick, which, when last we saw it, was hurtling towards your unprotected toes, gathering momentum and kinetic energy on its way, will transform into a shower of rose-petals just before impact. In which case, you may, and with some justice, feel inclined to take the time to smell the flowery fragments.
I must admit that I would, in no circumstances, subject my bare foot to the test! However, the final word goes to a once widely lauded author, one Arnold Bennett, the author of the magnificently titled, The Grand Babylon Hotel. It seems though, in our Tik Tok universe, he is not that trendy. He had this to say about the nature of time, which I find compelling: The chief beauty about time/is that you cannot waste it in advance. /The next year, the next day, the next hour are lying ready for you,/as perfect, as unspoiled,/as if you had never wasted or misapplied a single moment in all your life./ You can turn over a new leaf every hour/if you choose.
At this time of year, even as we hasten to formulate resolutions in another example of the triumph of hope over experience, I’ll admit to being attracted to his views on life. He gives his writing formula, which also appeals: I put in genuine quantities of wealth, luxury, feminine beauty, surprise, catastrophe and genial incurable optimism. And, as to why he wrote so much: Am I to sit still and see other fellows pocketing two guineas apiece for stories which I can do better myself? for stories which I can do better myself? I have yet to earn a solitary guinea for these podcasts- maybe because I have not bothered to put in any monetising mechanism. In any case, Wikipedia discloses that Bennett was the most financially successful author of his time. But let’s leave the sordid reality of getting and spending and listen to the song, Starting Over Again: [insert song]
The shadowy hound of death in a poem by Fiona McCloud is a wonderful construct where the spectre of mortality is not a grim reaper with hapless humankind withering in helpless stands like the grass and flowers of Isaiah and 1 Peter, All flesh is like grass,/and all its glory like the flowers of the field./The grass withers and the flowers/ fall, but, instead, we find a questing hound leading the lonely hunter, pursuing the lost-loved face, over a green hill. And what lies over that green hill?
Is it, perhaps, the Cloud Cuckoo Land of Aristophanes where the strife and privation of contemporary Athens in the 5th Century BC, is absent, or is the Feast of Fools of the Middle Ages where licentious behaviour scandalised the sober? Closer to our own times is it, perchance, The Big Rock Candy Mountain with its promise of cigarette trees, lemonade springs and chocolate heights. And might this locale be adjacent to Shangri-la, a mystical valley utopia high in the Kunlun Mountains, long believed to be a paradise of Taoism?
But over that green hill the hound might lead you to something rather more dystopian? Say, into the right-hand panel of Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights which depicts a chamber of hell where the torments of the damned are vividly on show. E. E. Cummings, during the horrors of World War Two in 1944 suggested an alternative to the mayhem when he suggested in a poem, pity this busy monster, manunkind, not/…pity poor flesh and trees…but never this fine specimen of hypermagical/ ultraomnipotence/…listen: there’s a hell of a good universe next door; let’s go.
There is learned speculation about the multiverse where every conceivable story and outcome is endlessly played out. Where, in one iteration of existence, you rule the Big Rock Candy Mountain; in another, you are a tortured soul endlessly enacting a scene from the right-hand panel of The Garden of Earthly Delights, and so on, and on. In episode 4, Season 6, of Through the Wormhole, Morgan Freeman discusses the view of theorists from a number of scientific fields who wonder if this universe of ours is not just a vast video game and we are pre-programmed elements within it.
These guys, presumably, don’t wear hats made of tinfoil but they are actively looking for glitches in the program that will prove that we are just epiphenomena inside, it may be, the latest fad of some alien teenage emo gamer. Now, wouldn’t that be something? But my head is aching from all this contemplating. I consider myself fortunate that all I need to do is reflect on quotidian matters, as the next song, Just For You and Me, reveals: [insert song]
Finally, I present a song I wrote in Manchester, in 1981 when, as a teacher, I accompanied the rock band from Ballymena Academy where I taught. It was led by Mark Dougherty, a gifted student with whom I have had a long friendship where we have collaborated on a number of music projects in Ireland and Australia. The band placed fourth- a creditable placing in a national UK competition.
The band went out to sample the delights of Manchester nightlife and I sat in my room in Manchester Polytechnic and wrote a song about a guy who met a version of himself from the future. I borrowed the title of a Wilfred Owen poem, Strange Meeting and played it for Mark when he returned. This was one of the songs we worked on in the next couple of years as we explored the worlds of rock and jazz.
Indeed, as lately as October 2020 we were collaborating on an ekphrastic project where I supplied lyrics inspired by Edward Hopper’s famous painting, Nighthawks. And then, a hiatus, but I didn’t think much of it as once before, Mark took off to India for a sojourn. And then, another friend emailed me last month, that Mark was dead. So, to conclude this post, I dedicate Strange Meeting to the memory of Mark Dougherty: [insert song] Vale Mark
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.