Letters from Quotidia Podcasts 2023 Episode 6

Letters from Quotidia 2023 Podcast 6 The Antique Battle of the Sexes, Old Fool, Maids When You’re Young

Welcome to the sixth podcast of 2023 in the Letters from Quotida sequence. Aprilis, means to open and fits April, because in the northern hemisphere April is the month when trees and flowers begin to bloom and go on to flower. The daisy symbolises innocence, loyal love, and purity; but it also means “I’ll never tell!” The oldest daisy on record is the Bellis perennis, known as Day’s eye in the Middle Ages because its petals close at night to cover the yellow centre.

However, for your April birthday, would you rather be handed a daisy or a diamond (which is the month’s birthstone)? Would you regard the flower as a joke? One that ought only to be played on the first day of the month as an April Fools’ prank, of which, according to Wikipedia, here are a couple of great examples.

In 1956, a rhinoceros called “Cacareco” (Portuguese for “rubbish”) won a city council seat in São Paulo, Brazil with 100,000 votes, due to a campaign led by students who were tired of the city’s mismanagement. In 1957, The BBC television programme Panorama ran a hoax purporting to show the Swiss harvesting spaghetti from trees. They claimed that the despised pest, the spaghetti weevil, had been eradicated. A large number of people contacted the BBC wanting to know how to cultivate their own spaghetti trees. The editor of Panorama at the time, Michael Peacock, approved the idea, which was pitched by freelance camera operator Charles de Jaeger. Peacock said the respected Panorama anchorman Richard Dimbleby knew they were using his authoritativeness to make the joke work. Decades later CNN called this broadcast “the biggest hoax that any reputable news establishment ever pulled”.

Who does not know the opening lines of a famous spring poem by Wordsworth: I wandered lonely as a cloud/That floats on high o’er vales and hills,/When all at once I saw a crowd,/A host, of golden daffodils;/Beside the lake, beneath the trees,/Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.// T. S. Eliot, on the other hand, characterises April as the cruellest month in The Waste Land which begins with a subversion of the first lines of the General Prologue of The Canterbury Tales, by Geoffrey Chaucer who paints April as a month of restorative power, when spring rain brings nature back to life: Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote / The droghte of March hath perced to the roote, / And bathed every veyne in swich licóur / Of which vertú engendred is the flour; it’s an image repeated to the point of cliché in subsequent centuries.

But in the wasteland of Eliot’s modern world, amid the ruins of the World War I, the Chaucerian image of a fertile, resurrective April becomes suffused with cruelty. And, at times, I feel as antiquated as one of Eliot’s sad figures walking through The Waste Land. Or, of an even more antique vintage, one of Chaucer’s pilgrims on the way to Canterbury in the 14th Century. You see, as a person formed from the mid-to late 20th Century, I was only aware of two sexes or genders (which were synonymous insofar as I could tell), whereas now, there’s more than a handful. Which means that the first song for this post is rather antique- so much so that I have called it The Antique Battle Between the Sexes [insert song]

And which one of us has not been an April Fool? Taken in by one stratagem or another, made mock of by friend or foe? And just as an Old Fogey probably started life as a young one, does a foolish youth ripen in folly to become, with the inexorable passage of time, an Old Fool? These questions were examined in some detail in Letters from Quotidia 49 and I won’t go over all that ground again but will give here a version of the song I wrote on the topic when I became old enough to admit to the stigmatising label myself. But before excoriating myself once more with the words of the song let me dwell a bit on wisdom and folly.

The Bible has quite a lot to tell us about wisdom and folly: Proverbs 16:16 reminds us,How much better to get wisdom than gold, to choose understanding rather than silver! So, then, what choices have you made? If that is awkward, how about what Proverbs 18:7 has to say, a fool’s mouth is his ruin, and his lips are a snare to his soul.  Listening, shock jocks? Of course not! Too much gold and silver on offer!

The Fool in King Lear is one of the glories of world literature, Have more than thou showest,/ Speak less than thou knowest,/ Lend less than thou owest,/ Ride more than thou goest,/ Learn more than thou trowest,/Set less than thou throwest. This is not folly, but wise advice. Fools, and other damaged individuals, have licence to speak the unspeakable truth to the mightiest in the land, even though they may face whipping or worse.

The wise fool abounds in literature from antiquity to the 21st Century. According to Sam Keen in Apology for Wonder, to call a man a fool is not necessarily an insult, for the authentic life has frequently been pictured under the metaphor of the fool. In figures such as Socrates, Christ, and the Idiot of Dostoyevsky we see that foolishness and wisdom are not always what they seem to be.   An early example of the wisdom of the fool is found  in Plato’s  The Republic through the figure of an escaped prisoner in the oft-quoted The Allegory of the Cave

The escaped prisoner, part of a group imprisoned from birth, returns to free his fellow inmates but is regarded as a madman in his attempts to convince his shackled friends of a greater world beyond the cave. In such a guise let me offer my song Old Fool. [insert song]

Most fools, as we know, are not wise, as is the case with the old man of this traditional folk song I first heard as a teenager in 1967 when Luke Kelly and the Dubliners regaled us with Maids When You’re Young Never Wed an Old Man. The daft censors in the BBC and Radio Eireann eventually tumbled to the content of the ballad and banned the song- but not before it had been heard and throughout the British Isles.

In every place, and at all times, we have laughed scornfully at the sight of old men (usually endowed with plenty of money, if lacking in other areas). We’ve uttered our envy-tinged laughter at these old wrecks who have an attractive, young woman on their arthritic arm. Of course, from the time of Chaucer and before, writers have mined this rich seam for comic content.

In The Miller’s Tale the old carpenter John has to keep a sharp eye on his attractive young wife, Alisoun- and not without cause!- for the young Oxford clerk, Nicholas, whom they have taken in to bolster the household finances casts his lascivious eye on the saucy Alisoun and determines to have his way with her. But he has a young rival in Absolon, the parish clerk, who also lusts after the old carpenter’s wife.

o cut a long story short- Nicholas and Alisoun consummate their illicit affair and play a joke on Absolon who is outside the window at midnight. Instead of her rosy cheek and red lips, Alisoun sticks her backside out the window for the passionate kisses of Absolon, who enraged at the trick runs to a blacksmith’s to grab a red-hot brand. Returning with vengeance in mind he calls out again but instead of Alisoun, Nicholas sticks his rear end out the window and farts thunderously in his face and is branded on the backside by the humiliated Absolon. Perhaps, had you been subjected to the humiliations piled on Absolon, your face, instead of reddening with rage, might have turned a whiter shade of pale- just like the title of the number one hit by Procul Harum in 1967, the same year as the Dubliner’s rollicking song. So, without more ado, here is my version of Maids When You’re Young [insert song]

To conclude this post, let me modulate the tone to one which is pure and unalloyed. And to do so in will quote another poem from Sara Teasdale, called April Song.  Willow, in your April gown/Delicate and gleaming,/Do you mind in years gone by/All my dreaming?//Spring was like a call to me/That I could not answer,/I was chained to loneliness,/I, the dancer.//Willow, twinkling in the sun,/Still your leaves and hear me,/I can answer spring at last,/Love is near me!// I hope love is near to us all and ever as I conclude the first of three posts for the ambivalent month we call April.

The Antique Battle Between the Sexes

(words and music by Quentin Bega)

Daisy, won’t you come with me down to the river flowing

It’s there I’ll show my secret heart within the full moon glowing

Oh no sir I am much too wise to heed such talk enchanting

Me mammy warned of smooth-tongued liars in my ears a-planting

Then Daisy won’t you walk with me along the path a-blooming

It’s there I’ll tell my love for you without assent assuming

Oh no sir I am much too weak to put up much resistance

Me mammy warned me not to place myself at your insistence

Proud Daisy you are not the only flower in this wild wood

There’s April, May and June who have indicated they should

Incline their ears to listen to my fervent voice a-wooing

As if I were a turtledove so amorously cooing

Why sir to ravish all the months I know is your ambition

And when you’ve done all that you’ll look for more without contrition

To pluck up all the flowers of the field will be your next task

While all I seek before the world your vile predations unmask

And so the argument proceeds the battle of the sexes

As if between the warring parties there can be no nexus

The wonder of it all is why the population burgeons

You’d almost think that half the world’s comprised of only virgins

                Old Fool   ( words and music by Quentin Bega)

                              I’m often told that no fool compares to an old fool

And I concede this rule of thumb applies to me

Since I could walk I’ve fallen down

Since I could talk my foot in mouth

I toss the coin call heads and tails- it lands on its edge

I have been called a multitude of painful names

I won’t detain you long as I recite, as I recall for you this hurtful litany

You are a meathead, sucker, sap, a drongo dupe, a Charlie chump,

You zany rogue, you fathead goose, you waste of space

Get on your bike boy hit the road out of my sight now sling your hook

I’ve had the book thrown at me so many times

I am immune from all your looks of deep disdain

I can absorb your sneers and calumnies, the libels and the lies with equanimity 

Philosophers are grave and gray the troubadours sing sweet and gay

The lovers swoon, the soldiers fight, into the night

Professors teach the clergy preach, the businessmen they buy and sell

While doctors seek to make us well-

From shadowland I watch the band of motley as it passes by

The carousel, the spinning top- the whirligig

I’m often told that no fool compares to an old fool

And I concede this rule of thumb applies to me…

Applies to you, applies to us

Maids When You’re Young

(Traditional folk)

An old man came courting me, hey ding-doorum day
An old man came courting me, me being young
An old man came courting me, fain he would marry me
Maids when you’re young never wed an old man

Because he’s got no faloorum, faliddle aye oorum
He’s got no faloorum, faliddle aye ay
He’s got no faloorum, he’s lost his ding-doorum
So maids when you’re young never wed an old man

When we went to church, hey ding-doorum day
When we went to church, me being young
When we went to church, he left me in the lurch
Maids when you’re young never wed an old man

Because he’s got no faloorum, faliddle aye oorum
He’s got no faloorum, faliddle aye ay
He’s got no faloorum, he’s lost his ding-doorum
So maids when you’re young never wed an old man

When we went to bed, hey ding-doorum day
When we went to bed, me being young
When we went to bed, he lay like he was dead
Maids when you’re young never wed an old man

Because he’s got no faloorum, faliddle aye oorum
He’s got no faloorum, faliddle aye ay
He’s got no faloorum, he’s lost his ding-doorum
So maids when you’re young never wed an old man

So I threw me leg over him, hey ding doorum day
I flung me leg over him, me being young
I flung me leg over him damned nearly smothered him
Maids when you’re young never wed an old man.

Because he’s got no faloorum, faliddle aye oorum
He’s got no faloorum, faliddle aye ay
He’s got no faloorum, he’s lost his ding-doorum
So maids when you’re young never wed an old man

When he went to sleep, hey ding-doorum day
When he went to sleep, me being young
When he went to sleep, out of bed I did creep
Into the arms of a handsome young man

And I found his faloorum, faliddle aye oorum
I found his faloorum, faliddle aye ay
I found his faloorum, he’s got my ding-doorum
So maids when you’re young never wed an old man

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.

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.

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 2023 combo for music composition.

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