Letters From Quotidia Episode 50 Since You Walked Out of My Life

Since You Walked Out of My Life

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia – 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.

Entry 50: Since You Walked Out of My Life- This song would have been the subject of entry one had this journal been organised chronologically according to date of song composition. But it’s fifty! And if I wind the clock back fifty-odd years (and very odd they have proved to be too!), I see a gawky, 16-year old with acne and a cheap guitar trying to impress his girl-friend (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. So what made me return to the abhorred artefact time and time again? Not a rhetorical question, by the way: I really don’t know. Not entirely. In the mid-sixties, confusion reigned in my world and on my horizons. In my English classroom, under the magisterial Mr Leahy, I was struggling to find anything of interest in L.P. Hartley’s The Go-Between. More people know the opening line of the novel than anything at all of what transpires in that work of fiction; all together now: The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.

They certainly did at Garron Tower, the colloquial name for St MacNissi’s College, a Catholic grammar school, situated on a plateau approximately 200 feet above the famous Antrim Coast Road overlooking the North Channel and out towards Scotland and the Mull of Kintyre. Built as a summer residence by Frances Anne Vane, Marchioness of Londonderry in the style of an English castle, the  property was acquired by the Catholic Bishop of Down and Connor in 1950 for use as a boarding school for boys as part of a long-term strategy for combating the sectarian stranglehold on higher education by the Protestant ascendancy of the Northern Ireland state-let, which had been established in 1921.

I notice in one of the posts about the place that it was compared to Hogwarts.  Mmm. Perhaps…it seems to have been magically co-located in time and space because there are two wildly divergent narratives about my Alma Mater: one upholds a glowing testament to the saying that schooldays are the best days of your life and another that would, if verifiable, be the subject of judicial sanctions of the graver kinds.

I know that when I arrived there in 1964 as a boarder, from my expatriate American Junior High School in Aruba I was shocked by the regimentation, bullying and corporal punishment that were par for the course. However, I survived because I became a day-boy in 1965 when my parents returned from overseas and, in any case, I threw my lot in with the smokers, gamblers and drinkers who formed their own protective clique.

Now, like Leo Colston, the protagonist of The Go-Between, I am in my mid-sixties, looking through my old things, awakening strange memories from that foreign country. A faded photograph sparks a sudden recollection: a winter scene from 1964 of a bunch of us meeting at a secluded spot, after dinner and before study. It is dusk: we are surrounded by trees. There is a headstone marking the resting place of Urisk, the faithful dog of the original owner, the Marchioness of Londonderry.

It reads, in part, Deaf to all else his mistress’ voice he knew, Blind though he was, his step to her was true. So strong an instinct by affection fed, Endured till Urisk’s vital spirit fled. Stoop grandeur from thy throne ye sons of pride, To whom no want is known, nor wish denied. A moment pause, and blush, if blush you can, To find in dogs more virtue than in man. And share, ‘midst all your luxury and pelf’, one thought for others out of ten for self’.

We light our cigarettes, cupping them in our covert hands, thinking that we have fooled the patrolling priests who amble below, as if in prayer, around the circular path in front of the imposing façade of the College, past the seven cannon pointing out over the North Channel at the future. [insert song Since You Walked Out of My Life]

In Letter 51 you are invited to share in the trepidation felt by a quivering school-boy as he awaits the judgement of a stern cleric and wonder anew how the locus of terror can also be a picture-postcard idyll. If you are partial to lies, then you may wish to cloak them in Latin, such as- Dulce et decorum est, pro patria mori. If you’re really just visiting Quotidia for the music, that’s fine too. You’ll hear a song about a man who walks into a bar and meets his future self- but doesn’t realise it until much, much later.

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- (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter)

Microphone (for many of the songs) Shure SM58

For recording and mixing down 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used

Music accompaniment and composition software– Band-in-a-Box and RealBand 2020 as well as- for some 20 of the songs of year 2000 vintage- I used a Blue Mountains, NSW, studioApproximately 48 Banter folk songs and instrumentals recorded live (“in the round”) with a ThinkPad laptop using the inbuilt mic.

Letters From Quotidia Episode 49 Old Fool

Letters From Quotidia Episode 49 Old Fool

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia – 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.

In the 49th letter from Quotidia, fools have the run of the place- but not without consequence. The Ediacarans ruled the roost for 100 million years or so. And a certain Mrs Turpin thought she was queen of the town until she had a book thrown at her. Just as we need our outlaws, we need our fools. How else could we avoid despair at being the scrapings of the barrel, the lowest of the rungs and the humblest of doormats? In our efforts to avoid relegation to the bottom we may, of course, have missed our apotheosis. So, then, who are our fools? Let’s start early, before memory, before humanity- a long distance in the past.

Let us meet the Ediacarans. They arose 600 million years ago, ruling the earth; like us, multicellular entities that lived by absorbing nutrients from their surroundings. They prospered in their Garden of Ediacara for untold eons, in their fool’s paradise until…well, until the Cambrian explosion- a 25-million-year event that saw the arrival of most of the modern animal families: vertebrates, molluscs, arthropods, sponges and jellyfish.

All that remains of the Ediacarans are delicate imprints of their fossilised shapes preserved in sand or ash that look, in miniature, like spinning galaxies, far off in interstellar space. Our fools, in evolutionary terms, then, are those fossilised images which remind us of the spiral galaxies turning relentlessly in the unreachable universe beyond. What rendered them mere remnants was the arrival of entities that did not just passively attach themselves to a rock and suck life from the surrounding environment. Things that could move independently and sustain themselves by eating other organisms began to roam around the Garden of Ediacara.

The rest is history, as they say. Some say we are within a few generations of joining the Ediacarans because of the rise of intelligent machines. A.I. is the sexiest new frontier according to some, and our worst nightmare, according to others. But, in the interregnum, I would like to celebrate humanity and its combination of wisdom and folly, laughter and grief.

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!

Truth’s a dog must to kennel; he must be whipp’d out, when Lady the brach may stand by th’ fire and stink. Oh, yes. Shakespeare, as usual, puts it best. 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.

A faithful servant of the beleaguered king, the Fool knows that the old ways are under threat and says, I would fain learn to lie. King Lear, using the royal we, replies, An you lie, sirrah, we’ll have you whipp’d. The fool, seeing more clearly than any of those around him retorts, I marvel what kin thou and thy daughters are. They’ll have me whipp’d for speaking true; thou’lt have me whipp’d for lying; and sometimes I am whipp’d for holding my peace. I had rather be any kind o’ thing than a fool! And yet I would not be thee, nuncle. Indeed, who would want to be Lear as he faced the destruction of everything he had known and believed. 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.

Flannery O’Connor’s short story, Revelation, set, initially, in a doctor’s waiting room features Mrs Ruby Turpin, who is a complacent and pious hypocrite, certain of her own rightness and assured of her throne among the celestial throng. As she converses with others in the waiting room she is somewhat disconcerted by the intensity with which a young female student, who is prone to psychotic episodes, looks at her. Then, without warning, she throws a book at Mrs Turpin, hitting her over the eye; she then launches herself at the corpulent woman attempting to strangle her. She is subdued by the doctor and nurse and injected with a sedative.

The stunned Mrs Turpin approaches the supine girl: There was no doubt in her mind that the girl did know her, know her in some intense and personal way, beyond time and place and condition. “What you got to say to me?” she asked hoarsely and held her breath, waiting, as for a revelation. The girl raised her head. Her gaze locked with Mrs. Turpin’s. “Go back to hell where you came from, you old wart hog,” she whispered.

The words resonate in her with prophetic force and she has a vision that evening on her property at sunset where she sees a vast procession of those she considered beneath her leaping and shouting as they made their way up to heaven-ahead of the likes of Mrs Turpin. If you are an old fool like me, then this song should resonate. If not, wait a while until you qualify. [insert song]

The next letter- numbered the big five-oh tumbles us backwards in time to a pimple-popping teenage boy trying to impress his girlfriend with his guitar and songwriting chops and to his faux castle boarding school overlooking the North Channel of the Irish Sea. We may be affected by the sentiments of the Marchioness of Londonderry for her faithful dog, Urisk inscribed on a large stone marker, which the narrator and his mates used as a meeting place for a surreptitious smoke after supper. So, if you are a slave to nicotine, bring a furtive fag to our meeting place in Quotidia.

Lyrics to the song Old Fool

A, E, D, Bm etc

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, in to the night

Professors teach the clergy preach, the business men they buy and sell

While doctors seek to make us well-

(music interlude)

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 me, applies to you

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- (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter)

Microphone (for many of the songs) Shure SM58

For recording and mixing down 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used

Music accompaniment and composition software- Band-in-a-Box and RealBand 2020 as well as- for some 20 of the songs of year 2000 vintage- I used a Blue Mountains, NSW, studioApproximately 48 Banter folk songs and instrumentals recorded live (“in the round”) with a ThinkPad laptop using the inbuilt mic.

Letters From Quotidia Postcards Edition 12

Postcards From Quotidia 12

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, the Postcards edition, number 12, a podcast by Quentin Bega where you will hear Banter, a traditional Irish folk group from Sydney’s outer west, present four tunes and songs drawn from the traditions of the English-speaking world. And, as always, Quotidia is that space, that place, where ordinary people lead ordinary lives. But where, from time to time, they encounter the extraordinary.

The Triumphant and Centenary Marches: Much played at Irish ceilis in past decades. These occasions were social gatherings in rural areas, especially, of Ireland and Scotland featuring folk dances of various kinds, accompanied by tea and biscuits. These gatherings were displaced by dances featuring showbands and fizzy soft drinks which were in turn displaced by discos and recreational drugs which were in turn displaced by dating sites and sexting on digital media. But enough of this potted and probably wildly inaccurate social history! Anyhow, in a world of alternative facts and such-like, we enjoy playing the music of the traditional ceili even though its cultural milieu is, alas, long gone- except in a few recusant venues- God bless ’em… [insert tunes]  

A Bunch of Thyme– Christy Moore popularised this song, which originates in the north of England, as far as I know. Of course, by the time it had made the rounds of the pubs of Ireland it became a naturalised member of the Irish Song Tradition. Many people listen to it and only hear a pleasant melody and overlook the dark lyrics: The rose that never will decay that the sailor gives to the maid is likely syphilis, for which there was no cure in the 17th Century where the song, most likely, originates. Banter have sung this song for decades now, and really don’t care where the song came from. And, anyway, the English have stolen plenty from us, so…Jim steals it back here, once again.

Whiskey in the Jar– Rock groups seem to like this one (Thin Lizzy, Metallica, et al). There’s something about the shape of the melody that appeals widely. This would be another song that was much requested when we played in the time before COVID. The idea of the overlooked or inconsequential person sticking it to the Establishment has been a trope since Adam was a lad, I’ll wager. It appeals to Banter and, to be topical for a moment, it appealed to many millions of Americans when they voted for the outsider in the election a couple of days ago. Who will get stuck with the more dire consequences, if any, following this result, one muses? Well, I made those notes to the song back in November 2016 and by now you will have made up your own mind about the wisdom or folly of the decision of the American people. And, as I update these notes for this twelfth postcard on Boxing Day 2020, it is still not apparent if the present incumbent of the White House will belatedly concede. At any rate, Sam the man sings the song that celebrates the skulduggery of the highwayman and his attempts to flee the consequences of his action. [insert song]

“(The) Leaving of Liverpool” (Roud 9435), Folklorists classify it as a lyrical lament and it was also used as a sea shanty, especially at the capstan. It is very well known in Britain, Ireland, and America, despite the fact that it was collected only twice, from the Americans Richard Maitland and Captain Patrick Tayluer. Maitland said he learned “The Leaving of Liverpool” from a Liverpudlian on board the General Knox around 1885. His version has the narrator leave Liverpool to be a professional sailor aboard a historical clipper ship, the David Crockett, under a real-life captain, Captain Burgess. This would date his version to between 1863, when John A. Burgess first sailed the David Crockett out of Liverpool, and 1874, when Burgess died at sea.  Tayluer said that he believed the song originated during the Gold Rush, in 1849, and that it concerned a person leaving Liverpool to strike it rich in California and then return. 

“The Leaving of Liverpool” has been recorded by many popular folk singers and groups since the 1950s. The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem had a top 10 hit with the song in Ireland in 1964. The song has also been adapted by several artists, most notably The Dubliners and The Pogues. (The above info from the wonderful trove of stuff in Wikipedia. Donate to it, as I do, because it is worth preserving as one of the saner sources of knowledge among what you get on other free sites.)

I first heard the song in the mid-1960s from a Clancy Brothers record belonging to my parents. I have had a handwritten version of the lyrics in my song folder for over a quarter of a century and in all that time I have not sung it in public, nor has any of the group, Banter. Don’t ask me why, as it’s a great song. Maybe it is because it got over-sung and over-played in the folk revival in the British Isles in the 60s and 70s? In any event, I was sitting in lockdown and happened across it as I was going through my folder. I think it deserves another airing- even though dozens of examples of the song are extant out there. I treat it as a lament, rather than the lustier versions that have been favoured by some artists. [insert song]

In our next postcard you’ll hear a couple of hornpipes, a patriotic song dating from the 1840s, a song in memory of scores of fishermen lost in a storm off the Yorkshire coast in February 1889. So, put on your wet-weather gear and we’ll set sail for Quotidia for our encounter with the 13th postcard. Best take a good-luck charm.  

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- (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter)

Microphone (for many of the songs) Shure SM58

For recording and mixing down 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used

Music accompaniment and composition software- Band-in-a-Box and RealBand 2020 as well as- for some 20 of the songs of year 2000 vintage- I used a Blue Mountains, NSW, studioApproximately 48 Banter folk songs and instrumentals recorded live (“in the round”) with a ThinkPad laptop using the inbuilt mic.

Letters From Quotidia Episode 48 Coda

Letters From Quotidia 48 Coda

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia – 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.

The 48th letter is entitled, Coda.  Our heroes should remain distant: beyond the realm of the living, preferably. A fringe-dweller forever, I have been in no danger of tripping over any of the living legends that I have revered over the years, some of whom have been memorialised in these entries. Samuel Beckett, himself, of course, a legend to many and a genuine hero in that he put his life on the line for the French Resistance during the Second World War, came a cropper when he met with one of his heroes in Dublin.

I read somewhere that he was not too impressed upon meeting with that chameleon, Flann O’Brien, a.k.a. Myles Na gColapeen a.k.a Brian O’Nolan who has given the world such masterpieces in fiction as At Swim-Two Birds and The Third Policeman. Writing as Myles Na gColapeen, he wrote a column in The Irish Times entitled Cruiskeen Lawn from 1940 until his death in 1966 in which he regularly bit the hand that fed him, excoriating the Irish managerial class. And he did pay the price, being forced to resign from the Irish Civil Service in 1953 at the age of 42. Unlike James Joyce and Samuel Beckett, he did not flee the stultifying Ireland of the 40s and 50s but chose to remain, being, indeed, the mainstay of his family of 11 brothers and sisters after the death of his father in 1937. But at what price?

This game is played on websites across the world and at many a convention and conference where his oeuvre is endlessly discussed. He could have, some say, escaped the confines of the repressive milieu that blighted life for so many for so long- driving our hero, among legions of thirsty, like-minded escapees, into myriad pubs in cities, towns, villages and hamlets across the length and breadth of the Emerald Isle. He may not have become an alcoholic and consequently have been liberated to write many more masterpieces. So the argument goes- and who knows… and who will ever know because there is no way of resetting that life or any other.

Another- and better- game that is played is based on a popular occasional component of his column Cruiskeen Lawn, The Various Lives of Keats and Chapman. This is taken from The Spectator of 12 October 1990, but you can easily find current iterations of the game online- Flann O’Brien invented this game, which features the two characters above- mentioned. The idea is to involve them both in a long-drawn-out, po-faced but unlikely story, which is finally crowned (or sunk) by an excruciating pun on the part of Keats. Here is a very short example:The poet and Chapman once visited a circus. Chapman was very impressed by an act in which lions were used. A trainer entered a cage in which were two ferocious-looking specimens, sat down unconcernedly, took out a paper, and began to read. `He’s reading between the lions,’ Keats said.”

Yes, you either love it or loathe it: if it’s amor then the pun is mightier than the sword. Too much? But this is light stuff, and you should read At Swim-Two Birds, published in 1939 when the author was 28, to appreciate his astonishing demolition of the conventional novel form. Why have one opening when you can have three? Where characters can conspire among themselves to drug their fictional creator in order to avoid the melodrama of his plots and have a normal existence? Where separate plot-lines can merge and tangle? Where natural and supernatural characters coexist and where language, exuberant and playful, dances on the page. Unfortunately, even the imprimatur of Graham Greene was no match for a German bomb which destroyed warehoused copies of his novel in 1940.

But this did not stop me mimeographing excerpts from this magic tome for my students at Warrawong High School in the 1970s. I loved this stuff and I wanted my students to know the liberation that language could make possible and I still hope that some of those I taught will get in touch to tell me that either, I was just a windbag, or someone who gave them the means of escape. But I revere The Third Policeman. Written within a year or two of his first novel, it found no favour among the readers of contemporary publishers. Disheartened, he put this masterpiece on the mantelpiece and told people that it had been lost. Turns out, in was in sight there for the rest of his life but was not published until after his death.

The Third Policeman, in my opinion, is among the most profound novels in modern literature. I know that I have felt like the protagonist of the novel: what am I doing? How did I come to be here? What are they saying to me? When will I understand what is going on? As it turns out, the protagonist is in Hell, having been blown up by the man to whom he has given over the running of the farm. A bit like Prospero giving to his brother the mundane chore of administrating the Dukedom…Me, poor man,/My library was dukedom large enough.  Prospero’s failure to accept his larger responsibilities sees him overthrown and washed up on an enchanted island, with his daughter, Miranda.

Quotidia is much like the island: Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises/Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not./Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments/Will hum about mine ears; and sometime voices,/That, if I then had waked after long sleep,/Will make me sleep again: and then, in dreaming,/The clouds methought would open, and show riches/Ready to drop upon me; that, when I waked,/I cried to dream again./ Isn’t it wonderful that Shakespeare gives such poetry to the monster, Caliban. Gives us all hope, eh? Listen now to the song, Coda. [insert song]

The next letter concerns itself with fools of all sorts. We visit the pre-Cambrian era and listen to extracts from King Lear as well as a short story of Flannery O’Connor. For good measure you will hear a couple of Biblical proverbs which has a lot to say about wisdom and folly. So until then, try to live your life according to the former- do as I say, as they say…

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- (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter)

Microphone (for many of the songs) Shure SM58

For recording and mixing down 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used

Music accompaniment and composition software- Band-in-a-Box and RealBand 2020 as well as- for some 20 of the songs of year 2000 vintage- I used a Blue Mountains, NSW, studioApproximately 48 Banter folk songs and instrumentals recorded live (“in the round”) with a ThinkPad laptop using the inbuilt mic.

Letters From Quotidia Episode 47 Waiting for the Drought to Break

Letters From Quotidia 47 Waiting for the Drought to Break

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia – 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.

Most of Australia, as I write this, has just emerged from a drought which has lasted for years. The horror wildfires of 2020 roaring across the landscape on its heels, were a direct consequence of this- and climate warming.  And this island continent, with the bravura that is habitual, has unleashed floods and cyclones to keep us on our toes. So welcome to letter 47 which is entitled- Waiting for the Drought to Break.

Writers, any writer, is a god. You summon something out of nothing- even if it’s dire, ordinary, inconsequential. And you wonder why you wrote this drivel and whether you should break your quill in half and chuck it in the bin. Is this how the Creator felt in that unknowable state before time and space existed at the instant of creation? ‘Cause, let’s admit it- we are not a particularly good product, are we? Consumer advice magazines would award us an epic fail rating. I know, staring at the screen now, that the words just written  will not prompt Shakespeare to spin in his grave over there in Stratford.

But still, we are gods, aren’t we? Conjuring something out of nothing remains a deep mystery to me. Enticing others to engage with the effluvia seems like a confidence trick, at times. Yet we go on, don’t we?  Whenever I visit my local library, I am struck by the huge number of books that I will never read. I don’t care too much about the stuff that I have no inclination to read, but I am haunted by the fear that I may pass by the one volume on the shelf that holds the key to my salvation- be it spiritually or secularly defined. The paralysis of too much choice: it has been defined and studied. So, how do we break this stasis? I like to resort to absurdity.

I imagine an intergalactic auction where Lot 354 is an audio recording of the last fart emitted by the last survivor of the human race. It is passed in for lack of interest in one iteration of the fantasy; in another, it sparks a bidding frenzy where whole star systems are put up as collateral. See what I mean about being god-like? Why read when you can write- yeah! In my case, why half-read when you can half-write. I have  shelves full of books that I have yet to finish reading as well as a drawer full of writing projects that are suspended: just waiting for the drought to break.

Another example of absurdity happens in spring and summer. I trundle the mower from the shed and check the oil, clean the air-filter, replenish the petrol and stoop down, bracing for the inevitable. I grasp the starter cord and, having ensured the choke is on and the fuel tap open, I briskly pull the cord out. Nothing happens. Sometimes my shoulder and arm are aching, repetitive strain having taken its toll, and I am on the verge of tears of rage and frustration. Yet, at some point, even if it’s the next day or the day after, the mower roars to life and I stride out muttering your ass is grass to the expanse of weeds, dandelions and struggling fragments of lawn that masquerade as my suburban back-yard.

This is analogous to the difficulties of fashioning this entry: which you may have guessed from the mention of God at the beginning and the subsequent references to mystery and astronomy. But the motor is running, the blades are spinning and the unruly growth hiding the fecund earth is being tucked into the catcher in readiness for transfer to the organics bin which will be proudly wheeled to the kerb on collection day, confirming me as a successful suburban citizen.

I feel, at times, like the man in Bruce Dawe’s poem, Homo Suburbiensis, hearing vaguely the clatter of a disk/in a sink that could be his, hearing a dog, a kid,/a far whisper of traffic, and offering up instead/Not much but as much as any man can offer/- time, pain, love, hate, age, war, death, laughter, fever. Almost like Beckett, who is another writer I look to for a commentary on existence. I first came across him as a student in 1969, having borrowed his 1938 novel, Murphy from the Belfast City library. It was a matter of you had me at hello. Its opening line marked the start of a journey through his output that is not yet over. The line? The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new.

Try this out for size, But he had turned, little by little, a disturbance into words, he had made a pillow of old words, for his head, from the novel Watt, written in Roussillon, southern France, where Beckett, a member of the French Resistance, had gone to evade the ministrations of the Gestapo. In the short prose work, The End, an old man, yet another in a line of tramps and down-and-outs, who inhabit Beckett’s world in droves remarks, I tried to groan, Help! Help! But the tone that came out was that of polite conversation. The bleak novel, The Unnameable, ends with a phrase that has provided sustenance to me for decades, you must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on.

There is no room in this entry to even scratch the surface of this artist’s dramatic output- in any case, you need to see plays like Waiting for Godot, Krapp’s Last Tape or Happy Days to get the full meaning. This is true of any play but, for Beckett, the minutiae of set, costume and stage direction were integral parts of the drama rather than mere background or dressing. I’ll leave you with a quote from 1983’s Worstward Ho, which I think I’ve seen as a tattoo on one of the many ink shows on TV, Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.  Fail better! Even this is sometimes too high a bar for me.[insert song]

Our next letter documents a problematic meeting in Ireland between two of my literary heroes, Samuel Beckett and Flann O’Brien, whose literary output will be glanced at. You will be introduced to a literary game that you may wish to play. There will be lines of exquisite poetry spoken by a monster and we will visit the classroom of a teaching tyro who is attempting to introduce his students to the intricacies of language found in literary texts, ah, the naivety of the innocent.

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- (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter)

Microphone (for many of the songs) Shure SM58

For recording and mixing down 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used

Music accompaniment and composition software- Band-in-a-Box and RealBand 2020 as well as- for some 20 of the songs of year 2000 vintage- I used a Blue Mountains, NSW, studioApproximately 48 Banter folk songs and instrumentals recorded live (“in the round”) with a ThinkPad laptop using the inbuilt mic.

Letters From Quotidia Episode 46 Everything Goes/Restless Paces

Letters From Quotidia 46 Everything Goes/Restless Paces

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia – , letter number 46, 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.

What is the plan, now? Have you ever heard this? In some meeting, in some relationship, in some internal conversation you have had with yourself or perhaps as part of a cognitive behaviour therapy session you are undergoing? I knew there was something wrong with me from the mid-nineties. I had banging headaches, nausea, an inability to think beyond tomorrow and a contradictory belief that I was invincible, somehow. Meeting with an old friend who was living up Sydney’s Glebe Point Road in an apartment, I celebrated my return to Sydney from North Queensland in 1995 by getting horribly drunk and raving like a lunatic.

This was not perceived as being particularly out of order because my life had been, for so many years, constructed out of just these bricks of self-destruction. Why they did not crash down upon my head? I have had reason to reflect upon it in the years since. So many times I have been, because of my affection for the demi-monde and, particularly, alcohol, in situations of considerable danger. Now, I could cite a guardian angel as the reason for my survival- but I know that is part of this whole magical thinking phenomenon. We all live till we die. Nothing will alter the fact that there is a limit to life. Do you want to live forever? Not me, but, given the choice, I don’t want to go just yet! So much to do; so much to see; so much to… you get the drift.

I know that I have dodged death so many times. A gun pointed at my head in Belfast; a confrontation with a brace of violent men on a secluded road; a miraculous save from a road accident in Warrawong- I could go on- as I am sure all of you can. Lots of times we don’t even know that we have dodged a bullet, because nothing happened. Luck, Lady Fortuna, Serendipity and Synchronicity are terms you may well be familiar with.

But what do you think about this insight into the nature of perception: In contrast to an epiphany, an apophany does not provide insight into the nature of reality or its interconnectedness but is a “process of repetitively and monotonously experiencing abnormal meanings in the entire surrounding experiential field”. Such meanings are entirely self-referential, solipsistic, and paranoid. If I knew what that meant, I would tell you. But I think you are way in front- an apophany is just absolute nonsense, the opposite of what James Joyce famously termed as an epiphany.

Yet, just about everyone I know; everyone who has spoken to me about the deep and meaningful stuff, has, at one time or another, talked about “a sudden spiritual manifestation, whether from some object, scene, event, or memorable phase of the mind–the manifestation being out of proportion to the significance or strictly logical relevance of whatever produces it.”  And here’s the thing: I hate listening to others wittering on about their meaningful objects, scenes, events, et cetera. And yet I’m going to do just that.

As the millennium was drawing to a close, my eyesight began to fade, I was feeling dreadful- beyond hangover, which I was habituated to. I felt mortality pressing down on me more than usual and the dreams of death were becoming tiresomely frequent. I knew I had extreme idiopathic hypertension in 1996 when my doctor told me not to return to work the next day (as I was in danger of dropping dead at any second) and sent me on a round of tests and dosed me with a large number of pharmaceutical products that finally got the blood pressure under control. But this was new, and yet another test revealed that my blood sugar was through the ceiling. The joys of ageing- in my case accelerated by what is referred to euphemistically as lifestyle choices.

So then, what is this apophany I’ve been talking about? Well, I have to bring up another neologism at this point- patternicity. Michael Shermer, founder of the Sceptics Society, coined this one in 2008, when he defined it as, the tendency to find meaningful patterns in meaningless noise. Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t this what happens in just about every meeting in the workplace today? Someone spouting arrant rubbish in multisyllabic torrents as nodding heads around the table give assent to the madness. So, I nodded with the panic dwarfs and waited for too many years until the mortgage was finally paid off and the government decided that it could pay me a stipend, called the age pension, for the rest of my days.

What was this apophany? Listen: I have repetitively and monotonously experienced the feeling that I count for something. And that you do, too. Insane, isn’t it? William Blake put it in these terms, To see a world in a grain of sand/And heaven in a wild flower/Hold infinity in the palm of your hand/And eternity in an hour. And once again I ask the question, where would we be without our poets?

Now to the song, which is a portmanteau composition. I started writing Everything Goes, shortly after learning that I was not bullet-proof in 1998. I was dissatisfied with it and couldn’t work out why so I left it and started to write a pean to music and love, entitled Restless Paces, which was also OK , but about which I remained less than satisfied. And then, one afternoon, I put them together with a linking musical line and-voila- in my humble opinion, it worked! [insert song]

In the next letter I put forward the modest suggestion that all writers are gods, we visit an intergalactic auction where we will bid, perhaps, on Lot 354, recite lines from Bruce Dawe’s wonderful poem about suburban man, so bring along that little paddle with your number on it, so you can make a bid.

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- (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter)

Microphone (for many of the songs) Shure SM58

For recording and mixing down 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used

Music accompaniment and composition software- Band-in-a-Box and RealBand 2020 as well as- for some 20 of the songs of year 2000 vintage- I used a Blue Mountains, NSW, studioApproximately 48 Banter folk songs and instrumentals recorded live (“in the round”) with a ThinkPad laptop using the inbuilt mic.

Letters From Quotidia Episode 45 The Ballroom of Romance

Letters From Quotidia 45 The Ballroom of Romance

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia – 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.

Our 45th pirouette is  all about dance venues, and Quotidia has its fair share of them. For some, this reminiscence will be as strange as a report about odd and abstruse cultural traditions of the ancient Aztecs. A few male listeners, though, may recognise themselves in this next account: Was it a dream or, perhaps, a nightmare? Was I there in that rural dancehall in Ireland in the late 1960s- a trio, with my brother and cousin?

Maybe it was an atavistic, male, cautionary tale, but I can remember a shiver of premonitory trepidation as I approached the first girl in the line at the opposite end of the fluorescently-lit hall. May I have this dance? I asked politely. Sorry, no. The accent was a lilting brogue that brought welts up on my soul. I could feel the eyes: from across the hall, my brother and cousin smirking and a ruck of male unknowns- as well as the sidelong glances and micro-expressions of amusement from the girls who had heard the put-down, stretching, as it seemed to me, to the crack of doom.

Fancy a dance? I asked the next girl, feigning a couldn’t-care-less slouch. She didn’t even answer but turned away and continued a conversation with her friend. I don’t have to go on, do I? In some sad corner of my imagination I am in that dance-hall to this very day, moving along a line of increasingly lovely girls who reject me in a variety of fiendishly humiliating ways.

As I recall, Larry Cunningham and the Mighty Avons,  a popular Irish showband of the time, were playing that night. Happily, this experience was not typical of my encounters in nightclubs and dance-halls during the latter half of the 1960s. Club Rado and the Jazz Club, Romano’s and the Astor in Belfast, the Marquee in Cushendall and Castlegreen further along the road to Ballycastle were among the magical places where people could meet and mingle to music that was of a surprisingly high quality. In the years and decades since those times, social interaction has moved increasingly online. The dance-halls, ballrooms and musical soirees of the past have not survived in any great number, I would guess.

How I came to write the song at the end of this letter, The Ballroom of Romance, involved a family holiday to see the sights of Enniskillen and then a couple of days in a cabin on Lough MacNean bisected by the Irish border. This was in 1985. Having driven for a couple of hours, feeling a bit tired from the trip, I sat out on a bench with my guitar and watched the water-birds among the reeds. A sequence of notes stuck in my head and I started to find the accompanying chords.

The original ballroom of romance was located across the Lough in the nearby village of Glenfarne: a famous location drawing crowds from the surrounding parishes for generations. I had viewed the short movie about this place a few years before. Starring Brenda Fricker, the evocation of the desperation faced by her 36-year-old character Bridie who has been putting on her best dress every Friday night for twenty years in order to attend the Ballroom of Romance has stayed with me for decades.  Based on a short story by Willian Trevor, it explores the themes of isolation, longing, emigration and lost love.

Set in the eponymous ballroom in 1950s rural Ireland, it is by turns, poignant, funny and excruciating as we follow Bridie from the farm she shares with her crippled father to the windswept dance venue. She hopes to form an alliance with the drummer in the trio which is providing the music for the dance. He is dependable, doesn’t drink and will be able to help her run the hardscrabble hill farm when her ailing father dies. She realises, however, during the tea-break, that his landlady has her hooks into him and, so, she retires from that romantic field of battle.

Her only other choice is one of another trio: three middle-aged boozy no-hopers who attend the dance every week after fuelling up at the nearby pub. Bowser Egan is the man- not of her dreams, for that person emigrated to England when she was still a young woman, nor is he the second choice, for the silver medal goes to the drummer in the band. No, Bowser, is a poor and distant third as the end of the film demonstrates: following her as she makes her way towards home on her bicycle, he renews his suit, promising to come and see her as soon as his mother has gone to meet her maker- a reformed man who will even make her a little flower garden.

Then, a pause, and his main reason for being there, Will you come into the field, Bridie? Afterwards, Bridie cycles home as Bowser, looking after her with a satisfied contempt, finishes off his whiskey and tosses the bottle into the field. I wonder how many men ask themselves, in relation to their partners, which of the trio they are: the golden paragon, the abstemious silver second, or the grubby bronze Bowser leering into the darkness, who will never know the pleasures of poetry such as Conrad Aiken’s, He saw her body’s slender grace,/This drooping shoulder, shadowed face;/All of her body, hidden so/In saffron satin’s flush and flow,/Its white and simple loveliness,/Came on his heart like giddiness,/ Seductive as this music came;/Until her body seemed like flame… Lines of poetry such as these set my old heart singing. [insert song]

It is with regret that I leave the ballroom of romance. When next we return to Quotidia, you will be subjected to a neologism or two, patternicity and apophany, to be precise. You will also learn of some of the narrator’s dodging of figurative bullets thanks to Lady Fortuna; and to end the encounter, we will bask in the glory of lines of poetry from William Blake. So, until we meet again, take care, and take the time to read some poetry and also  listen to the music that soothes your soul.

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- (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter)

Microphone (for many of the songs) Shure SM58

For recording and mixing down 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used

Music accompaniment and composition software– Band-in-a-Box and RealBand 2020 as well as- for some 20 of the songs of year 2000 vintage- I used a Blue Mountains, NSW, studioApproximately 48 Banter folk songs and instrumentals recorded live (“in the round”) with a ThinkPad laptop using the inbuilt mic.

Letters From Quotidia Postcards Edition 11

PFQ 11

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, the Postcards edition, number 11, a podcast by Quentin Bega where you will hear Banter, a traditional Irish folk group from Sydney’s outer west, present four tunes and songs drawn from the traditions of the English-speaking world. And, as always, Quotidia is that space, that place, where ordinary people lead ordinary lives. But where, from time to time, they encounter the extraordinary.

The boys from Western Sydney kick off with a spirited set of tunes called Begleys, which Mark learned when he first picked up the fiddle as a schoolboy and went along for a session with his father in the 90s. As we look back, as 2020 draws to a close here in Sydney, we all wonder if the latest outbreak of the virus will send us all ducking again into our lockdown habitations.

Strange to think that tonight as I write this, I see that the US has recorded almost 180,000 cases as opposed to the 8 new cases in NSW which has caused the other states of Australia to slam shut their borders. But, I guess, that’s why we are a lot better off than most of the other nations of this earth. We actually believe that the virus is serious and life-threatening to ourselves and those we love. All we can offer (and I hope by the time you hear this, that COVID will be a horror quickly vanishing in the rear-view mirror), all we can offer, is the life-affirming music that is part of the Irish tradition. Try to keep from tapping your foot in time to the great set of tunes that make up, Begleys [insert tune]

How’s yer foot! Jim first won a prize for singing when he was a boy. He entered a competition with a friend when he holidayed in Cushendall from his home in Belfast- this was in the mid-1960s. I first heard him as a singer in the 1970s when our paths crossed again in Australia. He is a great exponent of storytelling ballads and one of the songs that has been requested most from audiences here in Sydney, is the one he is going to sing now. As I write this intro, I am aware that we, as the group Banter, have not been playing for an audience for over ten months!

You know, there is something that happens between a singer (or group) and an audience that cannot be easily explained: even at the lowest level- there is an energising connection. And when it is at its highest- it is transcendental. Jim has often, in performance, reached this level with the audiences we have played for. Eric Bogle wrote this song in 1980, I think. Anyway, we have loved the song for decades. Writers like Eric Bogle can reach into a country’s history, tap into the psyche of the folk who live and die there and set it out in memorable words and music for us all to appreciate.

The song that Jim is going to sing is called Now I’m Easy. Also known as The Cocky Farmer, this great song of Aussie endurance and stoicism was one of our most requested songs when we were playing on a semi-regular basis in the late 1990s. Back in the mid- 1970s, we began to listen to a great new writer named Eric Bogle. In the 80s, back in Ireland, my hair stood on end when I heard, for the first time, No Man’s Land. In the early 1990s, in North Queensland, I attended a memorable concert by Bogle at the Burdekin Theatre. Long may he continue to write and sing. And people like Jim can tap into the truth of the song and set it out for us to appreciate anew. Listen now to a fine rendition of  Eric Bogle’s, Now I’m Easy. [insert song]

Time now to hear from the other main singer in Banter, Sam the man. He was neighbours to Jim in the Belfast docks area, so they have been friends from childhood. I first met Sam when we emigrated to Australia in 1972. Sam introduced the song, When the Boys Come Rolling Home, to Banter about 15 years ago. It is rather more light-hearted about homecoming than, say, Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ye. Or, indeed, that magnificent Bruce Dawe poem about the Vietnam War entitled, Homecoming. Not that the writer of the song, one Tommy Sands, is incapable of writing poignantly- I urge you to listen to There Were Roses, a moving and much covered song about the sectarian killings that blighted Northern Ireland for far too long. And there are fears that the dark times may come back again as a part of the unintended consequences that will result from  Brexit. Listen now, as Sam sings this song of longing. [insert song]

We close this session with an Aussie staple, The Lachlan Tigers. When Big Geordie Muir was singing with the band, this was one from his repertoire. Sheep shearing is probably the most iconic activity in rural Australia. At the start of the wool industry in the early 19th century, sheep were shorn with blade shears, similar to garden clippers. The first authenticated daily tally (i.e.the number of sheep shorn in a single day) was 30 sheep by Tome Merely in 1835. By 1892,  the legendary Jackie Howe managed a tally of 321 sheep at Alice Downs in Queensland-  that is, more than ten times what Merely managed. Here is my lockdown version which I present to you, without too much blushing: [insert song]

Our 12th Postcard from Quotidia features a couple of Irish Marches, a cautionary tale concerning maids and sailors, whiskey in the jar, and a song about the  leaving of Liverpool. So, until next week, when we will  sample some of  the fine drops of folk brew available in the pubs, clubs, bars, taverns, shanties and shebeens of Quotidia- Cheers! Prost!  Slainte! Or… whatever your toast is.

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- (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter)

Microphone (for many of the songs) Shure SM58

For recording and mixing down 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used

Music accompaniment and composition software- Band-in-a-Box and RealBand 2020 as well as- for some 20 of the songs of year 2000 vintage- I used a Blue Mountains, NSW, studioApproximately 48 Banter folk songs and instrumentals recorded live (“in the round”) with a ThinkPad laptop using the inbuilt mic.

Letters From Quotidia Episode 44 Paul

Letters From Quotidia 44 Paul

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia – 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.

What is it about us as a species?  We love to scare ourselves, with stories, games, rides on roller-coasters, dares about visiting that haunted house at the end of the lane at midnight. Horror movies, the howling werewolf, black-cloaked vampires with preternatural strength, swamp monsters, assorted trolls, goblins and giants from grim folk tales peopled?…no, creatured my hungry, youthful imagination fed by books and movies that seem quaint beside that series from the 90s and early noughties, Buffy- the chic- ironic, yet puerile, slayer in designer clothes wisecracking to befuddled, barely-comprehending adults as demons explode in colourful pixels against the point of her post-modern wooden stake.

And more contemporaneously, the walking dead and countless gore-fests from Netflix and other streaming services. Another generation’s hunger for information about the dark side is nourished by a flashier special- effects menu than was available to mine. And those years of feeding at the table of horrors wasn’t preparation enough to enable me to comprehend the real horrors that lurked in recent history.

I remember when Eichmann was captured by the Israelis and tried in Jerusalem. I looked in vain for the mark of the Beast on those bland features. I had read The Scourge of the Swastika by Lord Russell of Liverpool a couple of years before Eichmann was hanged, having plucked it from an attic hoard during a holiday back to Cushendall from Aruba. I stared at stark photographs of black-booted sinisters, some smoking nonchalantly, standing over pits of murdered people in sharp-cut uniforms.

Like so many others watching the man behind the transparent bullet-proof screen, I struggled to fit his image with my ideas of what monsters ought to look like. Could this bespectacled clerk be the author of so many deaths? Yes. At the behest of his Master. In concert with others of his bureaucratic kind who were in on the secret. Aided and abetted by the minor functionaries who enable the infrastructure of modern society. Made possible, finally, because so many people could look away and later deny any knowledge.

But the answer still doesn’t make sense. All our resources of language, all our intelligence, sensibilities, sensitivities, imagination fall short of the task. And even our greatest poets despair at delineating the horror that was the Holocaust- still the pattern par excellence for the bland-featured sociopaths who have a plan that doesn’t include so many on this earth and whose solution is every bit as final as that proposed at the Wanersee Conference so many years ago.

When I was 22, I read Paul Celan’s great poem about the Holocaust, The Fugue of Death in translation and from that time I have remembered the savage, splintered imagery in times of stress and trauma. Black milk of daybreak we drink it at nightfall/we drink it at noon in the morning we drink it at night/drink it and drink it/we are digging a grave in the sky it is ample to lie there/ But the English fails to capture the black angularities of the original: for that, go to YouTube and listen to the poet himself reading this work.

The world of the poem is one of shouting, digging, dark music playing, serpents, dogs, glittering stars, smoke, whistles, stabbing and two women: the golden haired Margarete and the ashen haired Shulamith. And there is also a man with eyes of blue, a man in the house your golden hair Margarete/your ashen hair Shulamith he plays with the serpents/He shouts play sweeter death’s music death comes as a master from Deutschland/he shouts stroke darker the strings and as smoke you shall climb to the sky/then you’ll have a grave in the clouds it is ample to lie there. Have you supped full of horrors yet?

I am glad that my dish has been, largely, vicarious. My mind is not filled with the scorpions tyrants have to contend with nightly. C.S. Lewis, author of those innocent, those enabling fictions, the Narnia tales, also wrote The Screwtape Letters during the dark years of the Second World War. His readers, avid for more insights into the Satanic mind, were disappointed when he called it quits. He could no longer bear the burden of dwelling imaginatively in those dark regions. He feared for his very soul.

And rightly so. Human life needs light and love and natural things and if this means a quotidian existence where one has to forgo the depths of Faustian knowledge and the heights of Elysian experience, then, so be it. Limits are, often, not so much limiting, as lifesaving, after all. And again and again poets come to the rescue. One of my favourites, Carol Ann Duffy, comes to the rescue with a poem entitled Prayer, Some days, although we cannot pray, a prayer/utters itself. So, a woman will lift/her head from the sieve of her hands and stare/at the minims sung by a tree, a sudden gift./Some nights, although we are faithless, the truth/enters our hearts, that small familiar pain;/then a man will stand stock-still, hearing his youth/in the distant Latin chanting of a train.

And another from James Arlington Wright entitled A Blessing where, with a friend, he greets two Indian ponies in their meadow, in itself a metaphor of love. One of the ponies has walked over and nuzzled his hand, the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear/That is delicate as the skin over a girl’s wrist./Suddenly I realise/That if I stepped out of my body I would break/Into blossom. A final prayer, that all those hurt and murdered blossom forever.

Listen now, to my tribute to the poetry and person of Paul Celan. Like a song earlier in the sequence inspired by the poetry of Sylvia Plath, I have used elements of Celan’s poetry to help me craft the lyric of the song, Paul. [insert song]

Our next trip to Quotidia brings us to the glitter-balled delights of Irish dance halls in the 50s and 60s of the twentieth century, so get on those dancing shoes, slap on the aftershave and let’s go and seek out the pretty girls in their glad-rags dancing round their patent leather handbags.

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. Mark Dougherty has a co-writing credit for the song Paul. 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- (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter)

Microphone (for many of the songs) Shure SM58

For recording and mixing down 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used

Music accompaniment and composition software– Band-in-a-Box and RealBand 2020 as well as- for some 20 of the songs of year 2000 vintage- I used a Blue Mountains, NSW, studioApproximately 48 Banter folk songs and instrumentals recorded live (“in the round”) with a ThinkPad laptop using the inbuilt mic.

Letters From Quotidia Episode 43 Pandora’s Box

Letters From Quotidia 43 Pandora’s Box

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia – 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.

What’s in a word? We all know what can happen when we mistake one word for another and our scan of the pages of Letter 43 will examine just such an error. Starting from the 16th Century we plunge back to Hesiod and the Golden Age of Greek myth, then forward in time to the brilliant mind of Nietzsche in the 19th Century and onwards to a poetic encounter in the 20th Century with Howard Nemerov. So, what’s in a word?

Blame Erasmus. Who, after all, can resist the urge to open the box? If instead, you were faced with a large jar, one large enough to house a body you might instead just give up especially if it were inhabited by Diogenes the Cynic who often slept in one in the marketplace of Ancient Athens. He was known for his philosophical exercises such as carrying a lamp in the daytime, claiming to be looking for an honest man. In his translation of the myth in the 16th Century, Erasmus renders the Greek word pithos which means a large jar- with pyxis which means a small box.

From that time, reinforced by painters’ treatment of the myth, box it remains. But I don’t want to leave the ancient Greeks just yet. Zeus, somewhat miffed at Prometheus for gifting Man with fire, commanded Hephaestus to fashion Pandora out of clay. Let me say now that, when I referred to humanity as Man before, it wasn’t a PC lapse, so, back off, woke warriors! You see, this refers to the Golden Age, when the poet Hesiod explains: how the end of man’s Golden Age, (an all-male society of immortals who were reverent to the gods, worked hard, and ate from abundant groves of fruit) was brought on by Prometheus, when he stole Fire from Mt. Olympus and gave it to mortal man, Zeus punished the technologically advanced society by creating woman. Thus, Pandora was created as the first woman and given the jar which releases all evils upon man. The opening of the jar serves as the beginning of the Silver Age, in which man is now subject to death, and with the introduction of woman to birth as well, giving rise to the cycle of death and rebirth.

Of course, the jar was opened! and this explains that bunion on your foot. The most puzzling part of the myth is what was left in the box. The Greeks have a word for it, elpis. This has been translated as Hope. So, if hope is left in the box, what sort of hope is being referred to?  My head hurt after reading the many contending views so I’ll just cite the astringent argument of Nietzsche and leave it for you to sort out:

One single evil had not yet slipped out of the jar. As Zeus had wished, Pandora slammed the top down and it remained inside. So now man has the lucky jar in his house forever and thinks the world of the treasure. It is at his service; he reaches for it when he fancies it. For he does not know that the jar which Pandora brought was the jar of evils, and he takes the remaining evil for the greatest worldly good—it is hope, for Zeus did not want man to throw his life away, no matter how much the other evils might torment him, but rather to go on letting himself be tormented anew. To that end, he gives man hope. In truth, it is the most evil of evils because it prolongs man’s torment.

Some mistakes you profit from- I refer here to the pithos to pyxis of Erasmus: how else could I draw the line so strongly between older TVs where the cathode ray tube nestles in a box-like housing, with the ills which stream from the contraption into the world of the 20th Century where I have lived the majority of my life? TV was also called the idiot box and blamed for all sorts of ills that poured from it- inciting teens to promiscuous sex and the like. The metaphor doesn’t work in the 21st Century though: flat-screen TVs aren’t boxlike and, in any case, the exploding world of alternative devices and ways of receiving information and entertainment means that no longer do we crouch before the electronic sage in the corner, communally absorbing its emanations.

But for a few generations, it was a way of life and Howard Nemerov, in a poem entitled A Way of Life, spoke for those now receding generations, It’s been going on a long time./For instance, these two guys, not saying much, who slog/Through sun and sand, fleeing the scene of their crime,/Till one turns, without a sound, and smacks/His buddy flat with the flat of an axe./Which cuts down on the dialogue/Some, but is viewed rather as normal than sad/By me, as I wait for the next ad./It seems to me it’s been quite a while/Since the last vision of blonde loveliness/Vanished, her shampoo and shower and general style/Replaced by this lean young lunkhead/ parading along with a gun in his back to confess/How yestereve, being drunk/And in a state of existential despair,/He beat up his grandma and pawned her invalid chair./But here at last is a pale beauty/ Smoking a filter beside a mountain stream,/Brief interlude, before the conflict of love and duty/Gets moving again, as sheriff and posse expound,/Between jail and saloon, the American Dream/Where Justice, after considerable horsing around,/Turns out to be Mercy; when the villain is knocked off,/A kindly uncle offers syrup for my cough.  [thanks to Valerie Nemerov for allowing me to quote the whole poem]

We sit, chained to the walls of our caves watching the dancing shadows projected from the fire behind. Time for the truth? Listen, now, to the answer given in the song, Pandora’s Box. [insert song] 

The trolls and goblins of fairy tales can’t hold a candle (black and rancid though it may be) to the real-life horrors who masquerade as human beings and march through history. We will meet some of these but, ultimately, the darkness of their deeds will be driven away by the light of poetry from Paul Celan, Carol Ann Duffy and James Wright. Until then, keep watching those shadows dancing across your devices and join me, next time in our ongoing quest for truth, honour and adventure in the land 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- (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter)

Microphone (for many of the songs) Shure SM58

For recording and mixing down 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used

Music accompaniment and composition software– Band-in-a-Box and RealBand 2020 as well as- for some 20 of the songs of year 2000 vintage- I used a Blue Mountains, NSW, studioApproximately 48 Banter folk songs and instrumentals recorded live (“in the round”) with a ThinkPad laptop using the inbuilt mic.