Letters From Quotidia Episode 26 Penelope’s Song

LFQ26 Penelope’s Song

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 this 26th letter you will hear lines of poetry about the sea by John Masefield, Margaret Atwood’s mischievous take on the Odyssean myth and  wander simultaneously through the Dublin of the early 20th Century and sunny Bondi in the 21st. Can you beat the magic of podcasts?

In the Glens of Antrim, where I was born, the sea has been a powerful shaping force throughout history and, indeed, pre-history. For 10,000 years people have walked through the glens, many having arrived by sea over the millennia and just as many having left by the same means. My father and grandfather were the latest in a long line of Glensmen who sought a livelihood across the sea stretching back to the Neolithic exporters of porcellanite axe heads found the length and breadth of the British Isles and much further afield.

John Masefield has set out in a poem, published in 1902, the allure of the sea-faring life to many a sailor; an allure as powerful as the attractions of the girls from the Belfast brothels of the previous entry.

I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,/And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,/And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,/And a grey mist on the sea’s face and a grey dawn breaking.

For most part, the womenfolk stayed at home and waited and waited; expected to emulate Penelope, spouse of the Greek hero Odysseus who warded off 108 suitors for twenty years by saying she would entertain their suit when she had finished her weaving, an appropriate wifely task. At night, she would undo what she had done the previous day. This embodiment of uxorial decorum is represented in art by her modest pose of leaning her cheek on her hand, and by her protectively crossed knees, reflecting her long chastity in Odysseus’s absence.

Her name has traditionally been associated with marital faithfulness, unlike her contemporary, Helen, who represents the fatal attraction of faithless beauty: Was this the face that launch’d a thousand ships/And burnt the topless towers of Ilium? But some recent readings offer a more ambiguous interpretation of Penelope, the wifely paragon.

As Margaret Attwood has Penelope observe in The Penelopiad, when she recognises her husband’s beggarly disguise but refrains from calling him on it: it’s always an imprudence to step between a man and the reflection of his own cleverness.  Continuing the deflation of the legend, she further assets that Odysseus was a liar and drunkard who had fought a one-eyed bartender then boasted it was a giant, cannibalistic Cyclops he had bested through his guile and strength.

Other, ancient sources including Duris of Samos and Servius, the Virgilian commentator, report that Penelope slept with all 108 suitors in Odysseus’ absence, and gave birth to Pan as a result. One wonders if, in fact, the song of the Sirens that tormented Odysseus was suspicious thoughts of what his wife was up to back in Ithaca.  

In the early 7th Century, St Isidore, patron saint of the Internet, who is said to have been the last true scholar of the ancient world, asserted in his  Etymologiae that there were three Sirens…One of them sang, another played the flute, the third the lyre. They drew sailors, decoyed by song, to shipwreck… According to the truth, he asserts, they were prostitutes who led travellers down to poverty. So he is of one mind with the Reverend O’Hanlon of my previous letter.

In 1917, Franz Kafka writing about these creatures has this to say: Now the Sirens have a still more fatal weapon than their song, namely their silence. And though admittedly such a thing never happened, it is still conceivable that someone might possibly have escaped from their singing; but from their silence certainly never.

But we don’t have to put up with their silence, thankfully. In my head I hear a partial roll-call of those intrepid men who heeded the summons of the sea and helped shape modern Australia, the place where I now live and call home: Bass, Baudin, Cook, Dampier, D’Entrecasteaux, Flinders, Frecinyet, Furneaux, La Perouse, Tasman, Torres. They all undertook voyages as legendary as that of Odysseus in the Bronze Age. The age of exploration across the vastness of land and sea has passed, I guess, and we look to the stars for a new age of exploration.

I think, now, of an Irish writer who took on the immense themes found in the Odyssey of Homer and presents us with one day in the life of an unremarkable Dubliner as he wanders around his city on the 16th of June, 1904; a most propitious date that is still celebrated in cities around the world as Bloomsday where readings from the text take pride of place. In Sydney, it has been celebrated in a variety of venues including Bondi Beach where Irish backpackers congregate in large numbers in order to redden their pale Celtic backs in the sun and to redden their pale Celtic faces at the pub afterwards.

Some of them may even take part in marking the composition of Ulysses by James Joyce where we find Molly Bloom, who represents Penelope, lying in bed with her husband Leopold Bloom, who is Odysseus. The novel concludes with Molly’s remembrance of Bloom’s marriage proposal. And her reply? …yes I said yes I will Yes. [Insert song Penelope’s Song] 

In our next Letter From Quotidia, we learn that Soren Kierkegaard is, actually, a bit of a snob; cheer as we learn how the American officers and men from the USS Pueblo, captured by the North Koreans in 1968, gamed their captors with a play on words from a term derived from a hymn to Apollo; and how “tradies” in Australia, at one time, occupied an honoured place in Australian society and are once again in the ascendent as we belatedly discover that coders and tik tok dancers can’t fix a tap or replace a fuse or lay a brick on a brick or saw a plank in half to mend the back door. Who knew? So, we’ll meet again in Quotidia for letter 27, that is, if the bloody place is still standing from a lack of people able to fix the bits that break or fall off or cease to work. Fingers crossed!

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 25 Belfast Calling

LFQ25 Belfast Calling

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.

There are places of wonder, splendour, adventure and transcendence, I suppose. Most Saturday mornings, I sit on the northeast corner of our veranda and flip through the travel supplement of The Sydney Morning Herald as I sip coffee and listen to the radio. In winter, the sun is low enough to stream under the roof and warm my blood as well as that of the small lizards that bask on the red-brick wall opposite.

In summer, the sun is higher and the same corner is shaded and open to the cooling breeze. Why, then, would I want to be anywhere else? I notice that the grey dollar is avidly sought as cruise operators, glamping spruikers as well as the more traditional bus touring companies display their dream destinations in extravagant, adjective-strewn purple prose promising fulfilment of various kinds…of-a-lifetime, of course. To over-promise and under-deliver seems a feature of life today. Does “awesome” retain even a sliver of its original heft?

My dyspeptic cast of thought is not solely due to the advertising copy before me (some of it masquerading as travel writing) but the thought that I must return to the small box-room that I use as a writing post. There, I’ve left an excerpt from Letter III of a Congregationalist minister writing, in 1852, an account of his meeting with some of my forbears in a small house at the entry of a cul-de-sac in the slums of Belfast. Entitled Walks Among the Poor of Belfast…, it is one of the many printed exposés of the effects of extreme poverty in the industrial cities of the UK at the time.

The Reverend W. M. O’Hanlon recounts, the first house we entered was filled with sweeps…it is seldom that even one or two of these dusky ones cross our path without exciting…pity for them…as among the semi-barbarous thralls of society…a conclave of some ten or twelve of them, all duly begrimed, and by no means ashamed to shew their colours, is not an every-day sight. My ancestors of less than two centuries ago reminded the reverend person of, a Pandemonium, only very completely shorn of its terrible sublimity and partaking largely of the burlesque. Deep ignorance is, of course, the prevailing characteristic of this class.

Hardly surprising, if the following testimony is typical, inquiring of one, about eighteen years of age, if he had ever been at school, his reply was, that he had gone to school when a child, for a few days, but, not being able to make anything of it, he had given it up and ever since he had looked upon “the larnin’ as a mighty strange thing.” George Bernard Shaw, in Pygmalion, has Eliza Doolittle’s father make the ironic distinction between the “deserving” poor and the “undeserving” poor and I wonder if the well-meaning O’Hanlon felt he had discovered one of the former in this next extract:

 In this singular group, however, we did find one lad able to read a little, and, having furnished him with the means, we set him to work, for his own benefit and that of his black brethren. What means? What work? I ask myself 163 years later, and I have a feeling there may be a script, poem, song or short story here. But I must put it on the long finger, to use an Irish expression from the time, because I would like to share with you the fact that the straitened circumstances in which the charitable Reverend found members of my clan were a des res in comparison to what was found in a nearby lane,

Sounds a bit like Kings Cross of a Saturday night, doesn’t it? O’Hanlon did not live much longer after his encounter with my black brethren and I honour his memory. But, out here on the veranda, as I gaze at the artfully cropped photographs of tourist destinations far and near, I ponder on the images and accounts that are not submitted for my weekend perusal but that would replicate in substance what the Reverend W. M. O’Hanlon discovered in the city that was my first abode when I left my parents and began my tentative steps as a new husband, a new father and teacher-in-waiting as I dreamt of a new life in Australia: [insert song] Our next letter, focuses on the sea with accounts of odysseys thousands of years apart. We’ll learn the name of the 7th Century saint of the internet and Franz Kakfa will reveal a hitherto secret power of the Sirens whose songs lured hapless sailors to their deaths. So, may you hear only those civically necessary emergency sirens until we next meet on the highways and byways 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.

Letters From Quotidia Postcards Edition 6

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, the Postcards edition, number 6, 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 Monaghan Twig/Denis Murphy’s/The Rattlin’ Bog– This is an unadorned and brief essay during one of our sessions where the fiddle player and bodhran player had a bit of a go in one of the many refreshment breaks taken by the others in the group. These, although convivial in the extreme, militated against the most effective use of time for group practice. Still, who do we really have to please apart from ourselves? [insert tunes]

Down by the Glenside (The Bold Fenian Men) is an Irish rebel song written by Peadar Kearney, an Irish Republican and composer of numerous rebel songs, including “The Soldier’s Song” (“Amhrán na bhFiann“), now the Irish National Anthem and “The Tri-coloured Ribbon”. Kearney was a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, popularly known as the Fenians. He wrote the song about the time of the 1916 Rising. It evokes the memory of the freedom-fighters of the previous generation (strong, manly forms…eyes with hope gleaming), as recalled by an old woman down by the glenside. It is effectively a call to arms for a generation of Irishmen accustomed to political nationalism. Three verses to this song were sung by Ken Curtis and The Sons of the Pioneers in the 1950 John Ford movie Rio Grande. The song became popular again in the 1960s, when it was recorded by The Clancy Brothers. It has since been recorded by numerous artists, including The Dubliners, Cherish The Ladies, Omnia, Screaming Orphans, Jim McCann, Harry O’Donoghue, and The Wolfe Tones. The song is also sung in the first episode of the BBC series Days of Hope, written by Jim Allen and directed by Ken Loach. An Irish barmaid is forced to sing after being sexually harassed by British soldiers and impresses them with her song. [insert song] The info here above and elsewhere in the postcards is courtesy of Wikipedia which I often access and donate to.

Don’t Get Married Girls– What a great song! Written by Leon Rosselson who has been around in the folk scene from the early 1960s. He is in his mid- eighties now and still active and still an activist. He is one of the characters I see as a role-model. It would be great to be still doing the rounds and playing in sessions at that age. Most of us in this little folk group have been married for decades, now. I’m glad the song was not current when I was courting. We have been told on more than one occasion, after we have performed this satire, how lucky we are that the sentiments expressed here had not been articulated so compellingly way back then. “Why didn’t you bloody well sing this to me when we first met?  “I might look stupid, but I’m really  not!” is our invariably unvoiced riposte, expressed instead as a shrug with a grunt. [insert song]

Come Up the Stairs- A couple of years ago I attended a reunion, ninety minutes south of Sydney, in Wollongong of, Seannachie, the band I was part of in the 1970s. It was a memorable weekend starting with folk open-mic at a bowlo in North Wollongong at which I drank lots of Guinness and sang, The Streets of Forbes and Her Father Didn’t Like Me,  I stayed with Joe Brown, the guitarist with the group. The next day we gathered at the house built by Bertie McKnight, the mandolin player. There, also, was Johnny Spillane, the whistle player and Tony Fitzgerald, the main singer of the group who had learned to play the guitar in the decades intervening. We swapped songs and yarns all day and, after Joe and I  returned to his place, he found an old cassette and played this song from circa 1975 which I had learned from a Johnny McEvoy record a few years previously. Anyone remember cassette players, apart from us oldies? I had completely forgotten about it and determined to resurrect it for Banter. The song was written by Shay Healy, Irish broadcaster, songwriter, and journalist. He got the 9/8 tune from his mother who was a noted singer of old Irish traditional songs. This explains why so many people think this is an old song, but the lyrics were written by Healy sometime in the 1960s. [insert song]

That has been the sixth edition of postcards from Quotidia. In our next edition we will start, not as before with a completely  instrumental set but instead with a song/instrumental combo, this is followed by Jim’s rendition of Paddy’s Green Shamrock Shore. Hot on his heels is Sammy with a rousing version of Ewan McColl’s Shoals of Herring. The postcard closes with a moving Scottish ballad about a massacre in 1692, written by Jim McClean back in 1963. Please join us in our continuing celebration of folk music from the English-speaking tradition.

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 24 Just For You And Me

LFQ 24 Just For You and Me

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. Hey, we’re back to my old mate, Aristophanes, and taking in Cockaigne, e. e. cummings and the Carmina Burana. But let’s start with that literary shape-shifter, Fiona McCloud.  

The shadowy hound of death in the poem by Fiona McCloud a.k.a. William Clark 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?  

Perhaps Aristophanes can give part of the answer. In The Birds, we see two middle-aged men, lost in a hilly wilderness looking for a land where the strife and privation found in Athens are absent. And what do they find? Cloud-cuckoo-land. One of the themes of the play is a revolt against conventional power-structures and this thread comes down through the centuries to us today.

In the Middle-Ages we find the Goliardic tradition where the powerful institution of the Roman Church is mocked mercilessly and finds its apotheosis in The Feast of Fools where licentious behaviour scandalised the sober and pointed to the contradictions between the theory and practice of many of the clergy.  The Carmina Burana is the best known artefact from those times. In 1567, Breughel the Elder’s painting of The Land of Cockaigne shows us stock contemporary figures such as a peasant, a soldier and a clerk, semi-comatose from the effects of gluttony.

Cockaigne, Wikipedia tells me, was an imaginary place of extreme luxury and ease where physical comforts and pleasures are always immediately at hand and where the harshness of medieval peasant life does not exist…a land of contraries, where all the restrictions of society are defied (abbots beaten by their monks), sexual liberty is open (nuns flipped over to show their bottoms), and food is plentiful (skies that rain cheeses).

In the great depression of the 20th Century, the same impulse is at work in songs such as The Big Rock Candy Mountain where the promise of cigarette trees, chocolate heights and lemonade springs lures a naïve young farmer’s son to follow the burly hobo to search for the land of ease. The denouement of the original song is not the sanitised version that children sing in school performances.

At about the same time as the song was being popularised in the 1930s we find Shangri-La, a mystical valley utopia in the Kunlun Mountains, which was long believed to be a paradise of Taoism. The word, utopia, was coined by Sir Thomas Moore in 1516 from the Greek words not and place or, colloquially, nowhere. What is implied by the etymology of the word has not prevented a host of visionary dreamers, both the benign and the psychopathic, from instituting their version of a heaven on earth. Manson’s family, Jonestown and Pol Pot’s Cambodia come to mind more readily than, say, the Oneida Community that lasted from 1848 to 1881 and which left us a legacy of stylish silverware-much preferable to the mountains of dead bodies and myriad shattered lives left by the others mentioned before.

Which brings me to The Garden of Earthly Delights, a triptych by Hieronymous Bosch, painted around 1500. Depicted are three locales, first; on the left-hand panel, we are in Eden with God presenting Eve to Adam, second; in the larger middle panel we could be in a region of Cockaigne where nude men and women cavort among a selection of oversized birds and fruit; finally, in the panel on the right of the triptych, we are in a chamber of hell where the torments of damnation are vividly on show.

We pursue our utopias, wherever they lead us. E.E. Cummings wrote a brilliant poem about this in 1944 during the horrors of World War II, 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?

While we contemplate that possibility (not as far-fetched as a whole lot of other speculations that exercise the brainiacs among us) let me present to you a song that was written decades ago when I was remembering a simple time of two young people in love  who were lying beside a river flowing through the glen that underscored our family’s shared history (spoiler alert, I am in this revelation). It is entitled, Just For You and Me. [insert song]

To start the next Letter From Quotidia, we will be looking into the past- something I have tried to resist. Yeah! But retrospectivity is built into the species- where did we come from? So, to begin the next tranche of recollections, I will be delving into the less salubrious environs of Belfast, where both I and my wife arise. Hey Ho!

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 23 Still On The Move

LFQ 23 Still on the Move

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. For those of middle or low brows, like me, do not despair, there will be a short, sharp, philosophical pain as certain propositions are put- but don’t worry, this will give way to the red meat of gossip in a very short time. So, let’s start with Zeno, whose arrow paradox will feature in the title of the song at the end of this podcast. Hang in there, those with brows less than high!

Zeno was a puzzling fellow: The hapless French knights in the previous entry would have been more than grateful had his arrow paradox been, in fact, true. I cannot improve on the account given in Wikipedia: In the arrow paradox (also known as the fletcher’s paradox), Zeno states that for motion to occur, an object must change the position which it occupies. He gives an example of an arrow in flight. He states that in any one (duration-less) instant of time, the arrow is neither moving to where it is, nor to where it is not.It cannot move to where it is not, because no time elapses for it to move there; it cannot move to where it is, because it is already there. In other words, at every instant of time there is no motion occurring. If everything is motionless at every instant, and time is entirely composed of instants, then motion is impossible.

Diogenes of Sinope, also known as “Diogenes the Cynic”, is said to have replied to the argument that motion is unreal by standing up and walking away. This is known as solvitur ambulando which is Latin for, It is solved by walking. Nonetheless, Bertrand Russell in the 20th Century has called the paradoxes of Zeno “immeasurably subtle and profound”. So why did he leave us such fiendish paradoxes to contemplate? Gazing at the idealised marble statues of the philosophers of antiquity may prompt us to ascribe the love of abstract thought as the motivation.

But I suspect it is in the heart rather than the head that we will find the true motive.  Plato reports that Zeno was “tall and fair to look upon” and was “in the days of his youth … to have been beloved by Parmenides”, his teacher. Crucially, according to Plato, the writings of Zeno, including the paradoxes, were “meant to protect the arguments of Parmenides“.  Where do we look, then, for the philosophers who can tell us of the paradoxes of the human heart?

Thankfully, we don’t have to search too far in time or place. Carson McCullers at the age of 23, published her first novel, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, in 1940. This frail, illness-stricken young woman, had the constitution of a sickly bird but the heart of a classical hero. Her characters seek for meaning and connection in a hostile world within wonderfully titled works such as Reflections in a Golden Eye, The Ballad of the Sad Café and The Square Root of Wonderful.

She, herself, was like a character from her fiction. Married at age 20 to an ex-soldier, Reeves McCullers, who was also an aspiring writer, she began work on her first novel. The marriage didn’t last and in 1941 she left for New York to live with George Davis the editor of Harper’s Bazaar, becoming a member of an arts commune in Brooklyn. Her friends included W. H. Auden, Benjamin Britten, Gypsy Rose Lee, and Paul and Jane Bowles. After World War II, McCullers lived mostly in Paris where she re-married Reeves McCullers.

Her close friends during these years included Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams. In 1948 she became severely depressed and attempted suicide. In 1953, Reeves tried to convince her to commit suicide with him, but she fled and Reeves killed himself in their Paris hotel with an overdose of sleeping pills. She returned to the US and lived her final years in Nyack, a small town outside New York City where she died of a brain haemorrhage at age 50 in 1967. Had she lived another 40 years to reveal, perhaps, a prequel to her most famous novel, who knows, she might have had to endure the damning with faint praise I witnessed recently on the ABC’s premier TV book show where her near-contemporary, Harper Lee’s book, Go Set a Watchman, was reviewed.

She is buried in Oak Hill cemetery where you will also find Edward Hopper, the artist who painted one of the great scenes of 20th Century American Art in his picture Nighthawks, set in an all-night diner on a street corner in New York City. I’ll conclude by quoting from the poem where, on the advice of her editor, Carson McCullers found the title for her first novel. The poem, The Lonely Hunter, is by Scottish writer William Clarke, who, as a member of the Celtic Revival of the 1890s, wrote under the pseudonym, Fiona McCloud.

This he kept a closely held secret. Yeats, (in a literary irony or, at least, curiosity,) found the work of McCloud acceptable but not that of Clarke. He later worked out that Clarke and McCloud were, in fact, the same person.  What are all songs for me, now, who no more care to sing?/Deep in the heart of Summer, sweet is life to me still,/But my heart is a lonely hunter that hunts on a lonely hill./Green is that hill and lonely, set far in a shadowy place;/White is the hunter’s quarry, a lost-loved human face:/O hunting heart, shall you find it, with arrow of failing breath,/Led o’er a green hill lonely by the shadowy hound of Death?   

The next song is unique in this land of Quotidia and, as a genre, is heard only once in the taverns here: it’s a brief blues essay which examines, at least in the title, the arrow paradox of Zeno. Its title- Still on the Move! [insert song]

The next letter which brings up two dozen podcasts, and it brings us back to Aristophanes and forward to the amazing poet E E Cummings.  We will visit Cloud Cuckoo Land and the Feast of Fools as well as the Big Rock Candy Mountain. To keep things sufficiently weird we will entertain the proposition that we are all epiphenomena within a cosmic video game. Is Quotidia getting weirder, or what?

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 22 Unhallowed Ground

LFQ Episode 22 Unhallowed Ground

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. There are battles afoot and we are called to muster and charge into the fray. So, without more ado, podcast 22 makes the declaration: Comparisons are odious. Why? Hugh Mackay, a prominent Australian social commentator, makes the point, in a newspaper article from 2005, that to argue that only Aborigines have a genuine attachment to sacred sites as opposed to the inauthentic attachment of the Anglo-Celts to their footy grounds, war memorials and suburban plots is rubbish.

He argues that a sense of place is essential to everyone’s identity. Uluru is sacred to its custodians and to our shame, it is only recently that tourists with zero sensibility have been prevented from clambering over this sacred site. Gallipoli is, rightly, holy ground for generations of Aussies. Comparisons are odious is a saying which was in fairly common use at least five centuries ago, and not just in the English-speaking world. Cervantes, in Spain, is credited with its use at about the same time as John Donne in England. In his poem The Comparison, Donne presents us with two women: the first is the mistress of the poet, where beads of sweat are compared to pearl carcanets. (Such as the jewelled chokers found enhancing the slender necks of aristocratic and royal ladies of the time) The second is the mistress of another where, instead, Rank sweaty froth thy mistress’ brow defiles,/Like spermatic issue of ripe menstruous boils…

He continues in this vein for more than two dozen lines and concludes; Leave her, and I will leave comparing thus/She and comparisons are odious.  This is not a man you would want to cross! But to uncover the origins of the saying, comparisons are odious, we will have to go back almost two hundred years before the Elizabethan Era to John Lydgate of Bury, a contemporary of Chaucer, who wrote a little-known but fascinating exploration of animals and their place in creation; in particular, their relationship to humankind.  

The title of this obscure tome? The Debate of the Horse, Goose and Sheep. To the modern urbanised ear, this seems a slightly ridiculous title and so it did to mine until I began to explore it in more depth. I am indebted to Jeremy Withers of Iowa State University who wrote an engrossing commentary on the poem entitled The Ecology of Late Medieval Warfare in Lydgate’s The Debate of the Horse, Goose and Sheep. The subject of the debate is: which of these three animals was of most use to humans?

The Horse claims pre-eminence because it is an emblem of chivalry: who cannot but thrill to the image of a knight in shining armour mounted upon a stately steed and advancing under fluttering banners into honourable hand-to-hand combat. Reality was not so pleasant; war-horses and draft horses were killed in enormous numbers during the Hundred Years War. The Goose advanced its claim by reference to the supply of feathers to furnish the fletchings of the hundreds of thousands of arrows needed in the seemingly unending conflict. The Battle of Agincourt proved in bloody detail the effectiveness of the English and Welsh bowmen against the aristocratic, mounted French knights who thought they would have easy game that day.

The Sheep, whose position was put by a Ram because the former was so meek, counters the military utility of the others by playing the Jesus card (Lamb of God, wouldn’t you know) and claiming that peace is superior to war. The Horse vehemently asserts that wool, as a premier commodity of the time, fuelled the war efforts of various protagonists. The poet, among all the contenting arguments, reveals the very large impact of human society, and particularly, warfare on the bodies of huge numbers of animals in the late Medieval period.

In this fable, a lion and an eagle act as judges and declare each of the animals should be deemed equal. This is not an idealistic, modern-seeming concern with animal rights or welfare but rather an affirmation of the medieval concept of knowing your place and keeping to it. But, to conclude, I will shift the animal metaphor to that of a large herbivorous ape which has a fearsome reputation that is not at all in keeping with its gentle nature and which, alas, is approaching extinction and may live on only figuratively for future generations: the 800-pound gorilla in the room is, as always, Shakespeare.

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?/ Thou art more lovely and more temperate:/Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,/And summer’s lease hath all too short a date: The sound and sense of Sonnet 18 has, it seems to me, quasi-magical powers. In fourteen lines we have been left one of the most affecting accounts of mortality where the preservation of beauty in the golden amber of verse is effortlessly described in the lines, But thy eternal summer shall not fade… So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,/So long lives this, and this gives life to thee. He knew, didn’t he, that his lines would be read and revered long after he and the object of his admiration were dust. Listen, now to the song, Unhallowed Ground where I attempt a meagre essay along these lines. [insert song]

Greek philosophers, Zeno, Diogenes and Plato kick off our next letter but, nil desperandum, we spend more time on the wonderful novelist Carson McCullers and examine a seemingly gender-fluid Scottish poet who fooled W. B. Yeats for a while, as to his dual identity. We also carom off American luminaries Edward Hooper and Harper Lee before we sink into the capacious pocket offered by lines of poetry to conclude a podcast that features the only blues song out of 240 items on offer. So listen in and learn a little more about the strange land that is 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.

Letters From Quotidia Episode 21 When It Isn’t Heaven

LFQ Episode 21 When It Isn’t Heaven

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 this 21st Letter there will be howling and singing, verse from poets Banjo Paterson and John Donne, references to a Miyazaki anime film and a nod to a tragic Shakespearian love story.

 Howling-adjective-producing a long, doleful cry or wailing sound. Oxford Dictionaries) Now that I no longer have to join the stream of traffic down the Great Western Highway to access the means to keep the wolf from the door and a roof over our heads, I luxuriate in reading the books, listening to the music and indulging in those sundry, random activities I didn’t have the time or energy for in the “working” phase of my existence. Leafing through a collection of Banjo Paterson’s verse the other day I came across the lines, Just now there is a howling drought/That pretty near has starved us out.

The poem dealt with the hellish conditions in the environs of the western Riverina town of Booligal in the final decades of the 19th Century. A woodcut from The Illustrated Australian News of 1889 shows a barren plain bisected diagonally by a cracked dirt track where the carcasses of animals consumed by the drought lie scattered across this stark tableau. A lone tree on the horizon is etched against the sky where dark clouds mock the arid desolation below.

Paterson treats the subject semi-humorously by having a denizen of the benighted town opine that apart from the isolation, heat, sand, dust, flies, mozzies, snakes and a plague of rabbits…the place ain’t too bad! The speaker concludes by noting that, in the unlikely event of rain, the track would become impassable and they’d be stuck in Booligal. Those listening to him are horrified, ‘We’d have to stop!’ With bated breath/We prayed that both in life and death/Our fate in other lines might fall:/‘Oh, send us to our just reward/‘In Hay or Hell, but, gracious Lord,/‘Deliver us from Booligal!’

For some reason I picture Paul Hogan as the speaker. Australians find humour in the grimmest of situations: the tragic aesthetic does not sit well in the island continent which was earmarked as the dumping ground for the worst elements of British and Irish society but which transformed in an astonishingly short time into one of the most desirable residences of the planet Earth. I put down the volume of Paterson’s verse and lifted a dictionary of quotations which opened at a page marked by a decades-old anniversary card from my wife to me. As I was lifting it out, I read the lines: Howling is the noise of hell, singing the voice of heaven, according to John Donne in his guise as a preacher rather than poet.

Singing and howling exist on a continuum of sound: one person hears music where another hears a racket. Donne was well acquainted with both concepts, heaven and hell, in his life and work. A saturnine, handsome, young Elizabethan blade with the worlds of adventure, love and preferment in front of him as well as travels as a spy and battle experience with the likes of the Earl of Essex and Sir Walter Raleigh, stares out from a portrait painted around 1595 when he was 24. Fast forward 37 years to the months after his death and we find an engraving of a sunken-cheeked, grizzled, death’s head in a shroud: something to frighten children with.

Engraved by Martin Droeshout, better known for the image of Shakespeare that adorns the First Folio, it is based on a portrait that Donne had commissioned and hung on his wall in his final years to remind him of the transience of life.  As I looked from one image to the other I was reminded of Miyazaki’s 2004 anime, Howl’s Moving Castle, where the 18-year-old protagonist, Sophie, is befriended by Howl, a strange, conflicted wizard, who lives in a magical moving castle. She is turned into an aged crone by the Witch of the Wastes. Perilous journeys, transformations and magical encounters within a surrealistic world lead in the end to Sophie and Howl at the bow of the flying castle sharing a tender kiss- oh, my God, shades of the movie, Titanic!

And yet, we are suckers for the happy ending, particularly one sealed with a loving kiss. Such a pity, isn’t it, that such endings are as rare as a blood-red diamond. Or are they? Tragic love stories attract the limelight: who would rate R+J if the Capulets and Montagues reconciled in time for the young couple to move into a new apartment in Verona and start putting up pictures while arguing over the décor of the ensuite? So, probably, there are lots of happy endings out there, under the radar, under the doona…

The idea of a prescriptive pair-bonding, though, seems quaint in the 21st Century. The ideal nuclear family of the 20th Century has morphed into a range of relational paradigms and you can take your pick of which one suits you. Me? Born in the middle of the 20th Century and married for 50 years in July of this year, I still look to the old paradigm and I find a surprisingly poignant connection with Andrew Jackson, 7th President of the United States, when he said shortly before he died: Heaven will be no heaven to me if I do not meet my wife there. And that is the cue for the song, When It Isn’t Heaven. [insert song]

Are you up for a debate among a horse a sheep and a goose? Or, what about Shakespeare’s 18th sonnet? Perhaps John Donne’s excoriating poem The Comparison is more to your liking? Maybe you just want to get on with it and cogitate on the differences between sacred and unhallowed ground in the 22nd Letter From 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. Mark Dougherty, long-time friend and collaborator, has a writing credit for the song, “When It Isn’t Heaven”. 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 5

Postcards edition 5

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, the Postcards edition, number 5, 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 Lark in the Morning– There is a song with this title which we will get around to recording at some stage, but here is an instrumental that has the sort of energy we like and which always enlivens a session when we gather to bash a few numbers out, have a few soothing ales and shoot the breeze. Our fiddle player gives it some welly and we all charge in too. There is something particularly satisfying about playing Irish music at full tilt.

The Patriot Game was written by Dominic Behan to the tune of an Irish traditional song, The Merry Month of May . Its narrator is Fergal O’Hanlon, who was a member of an IRA team who attacked the RUC barracks at Brookeborough, Co. Fermanagh on New Year’s Day, 1957. He, along with Sean South from Limerick, was killed; also killed in the attack was a young Catholic constable, John Scalley. I sang the song many years ago at a pub in western Sydney and a couple of blokes there objected to the “IRA song”. Yet, I view the song as an example of the tragic deaths fuelled by love of country, particularly of young men. Interestingly, Christy Moore notes that the song is often requested at his gigs by British soldiers. Dominic Behan once, in a phone conversation, furiously berated Bob Dylan who had used the song as a template for his composition, With God On Our Side. Dylan suggested that their lawyers should meet to discuss the situation. Behan retorted that he only had two lawyers, and they were at the end of his wrists. The version I sing retains the slighting reference to the first Irish President, Eamon de Valera, but omits the verse that justifies the killing of police officers. Yes, it is a controversial song, but, IMHO, worth singing, nevertheless.

The City of Chicago written by Christy Moore’s brother, Luka Bloom, is a firm favourite among listeners. The Irish have many bastions in the US: Chicago, Boston, and New York, to name just a few. And, as in England, the Irish were instrumental in building the infrastructure that helped propel the Industrial Age that set the United States at the top of the heap. As members, ourselves, of the Irish diaspora, songs like this have an added resonance for us.

Sweet Thames Flow Softly. I first heard the song in the early 70s from Planxty’s eponymous first album and determined to learn the song, adding an instrumental verse on Spanish guitar. Only last year, I re-visited the song with its instrumental adornment with the group, Banter. Here, though, is a Band-in-a-Box backing track with vocal. Who knows when we will be able to stand in front of a crowd (remember those times?) and do the band treatment of the ballad? Robert Herrick’s 17thC poems say:life is short, the world is beautiful, love is splendid, and we must use the short time we have to make the most of it. And he wrote that sentiment in lines we still recognise four centuries later: Gather ye rose-buds while ye may, /Old Time is still a-flying; /And this same flower that smiles today/ Tomorrow will be dying.// The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,/ The higher he’s a-getting,/ The sooner will his race be run,/ And nearer he’s to setting. I like to speculate that Ewan McColl was thinking of these lines when he wrote this song.

The Thames is one of the great rivers of the world, even though it is not very long in comparison the big rivers of this earth. It has history, romance, stories and poems galore, not to mention that it flows through London. Several times I have looked down on the bridges and Parliament as I have flown in to one or other of the big airports and never failed but be moved at the sight. Edmund Spenser the Elizabethan poet, in his poem, Prothalamion, ends each of the verses with the line, Sweet Thames flow softly till I end my song. T. S. Eliot, references this line in his modernist masterpiece, The Waste Land. Now, McColl’s song has been covered by many, many artists of note: but will that stop me from putting my cover out there among such elevated company? Nah, at my age I have grown a hide that compares favourably to that of the rhinoceros, another creature threatened with extinction. Anyway, have a listen to my version of Sweet Thames Flow Softly  and see what you think…

That has been the fifth edition of postcards from Quotidia. In our next edition we will start, as usual, with an instrumental set, which is followed by a stroll down by the glenside. Jim will sing a cautionary tale for all females contemplating matrimony. The final song is an invitation to come up the stairs.

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 20 Straight and True

Straight and True

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.

It’s tough being a hero. Not that I claim this honorific for myself, I hasten to add. I think of poor old Heracles, whose name means “the glory of Hera”. Heracles, according to Wikipedia, was the product of what is known as heteroparental superfecundation- where a woman carries twins sired by two different fathers. Randy old Zeus, the husband of the fanatically jealous Hera, disguised himself as the husband, impregnating Alcmene with Heracles before the real husband, Amphitryon, returned later that night to sire Heracles’ mortal twin, Iphicles.

Hera made Heracles’ life miserable in spite of the name change from Alcides to placate her. She attempted to prevent his birth and, failing that, successfully connived to rob him of his high kingship. When he was only eight months of age she sent two giant serpents into the nursery, which he duly strangled.  Astonished, Amphitryon sent for the seer Tiresias who prophesied an unusual future for the boy. What a surprise! Perhaps more surprising is that Heracles, when presented with a choice between a life of indolent hedonism or severe but glorious virtue, chose the latter.

Most of us would choose the former- or is that just me? His exploits live in legend and he remains the gold standard of the type. If demi-gods such as Heracles find the hero business so fraught, what hope for mere mortals? We need our heroes but are uncomfortable with templates from the past. The democratic spirit in western countries generally, but more particularly in Australia, values the self-deprecating-aw-shucks-anyone-would’ve-done-what-I-did schtick adopted by those men and women who perform acts of heroism few of us could ever contemplate doing.

Every time I look at the Australian of the Year site with its categories-one even called “local hero”- I feel proud, on the one hand, that we have so many great role-models among us; but on the other hand (and there’s always that other hand, isn’t there?) I feel more than a bit inadequate that I can’t really measure up. Except to our kids- at least for a while.

When I read South Australian poet Ian Mudie’s, My father began as a god the shock of recognition was immediate: I saw myself as the persona of the poem, first; that young boy thinking his father’s laws were as immutable/as if brought down from Sinai; then through the prism of adolescence his father becomes a foolish small old man/with silly and outmoded views; next, with life’s experience shifting the perspective, the flaws scaled away into the past,/ revealing virtues/ such as honesty, generosity, integrity. Finally, and strangest of all, the persona admits that the older he gets the more the image of the father re-asserts its heroic former stature while the son is left just one more of all the little men/who creep through life/not knee-high to this long-dead god.

As I sit on the back veranda, again soaking up the evening winter sun, I reflect that I am now the same age as Ian Mudie was when he died in London. It is heartening to read that his ashes were brought back to Australia and scattered on the Murray River. One of the decisions I made fairly early on was that that I would not seek the pedestal position some parents want; that yes, I would be as good a Dad as I could be to my kids but that I would let them see my feet of clay. Some would say that, in this, at least, I was an over-achiever.  The phrase, feet of clay, comes from the Book of Daniel in the Bible and I now realise that I should have chosen another metaphor to puncture childish idolatry because we are in the presence of yet another hero. Judaic rather than Greco-Roman, a seer and a prophet rather than a strong-man, Daniel divines and interprets the Dream of Nebuchadnezzar where a statue with a gold head, silver arms and breast, copper belly and thighs, iron legs and mixed iron and clay feet is destroyed by a rock.

The Babylonian seers were unable to achieve this and were put to death: Daniel, is raised to power. His companions Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego survive the fiery furnace. He is able to decipher the mysterious writing on the wall after Nebuchadnezzar’s son and successor Belshazzar has drunk from Jewish temple cups at his feast. The words, Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin, Daniel explains to Belshazzar, means that God has numbered his days, he has been weighed and found wanting, and his kingdom will be given to his enemies. My favourite Daniel story, though, is that of Susanna and the Elders. Two lecherous oldies, spying the naked woman bathing say they will accuse her of meeting with a lover unless she has sex with them. She refuses, is about to be put to death for promiscuity, when Daniel interrupts proceedings and by skilful cross-examination exposes the fraud. The lechers get their comeuppance: Virtue triumphs. The song, now, Straight and True is all about what Dad’s should aspire to be.[insert song]  Quotidia’s next Letter gets the key of the door as it turns 21- no latch-key kid this!

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 19 The Goodtimes of Doris and Ronnie

The Goodtimes of Doris and Ronnie

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 my mid-teens I dated a witch, briefly. She was from Barrow-in Furness, just across the Irish Sea from Douglas in the Isle of Man where I met her at a holiday camp at which I worked during the summer break of 1966. No Emos or Goths in those days; I was dressed like a Mod but spouting the verse of Lord Byron and waxing lyrical about the black magic novels of Dennis Wheatley made me a forerunner of the type. So, we got talking and she revealed her interest in the occult confiding that she was a witch.

Intrigued, I accepted an invitation to visit her in her home-town the next weekend. Catching the Douglas to Heysham ferry, that Friday, I made my way via rail and bus to that Cumbrian town stuck at the end of the Furness peninsula. We saw The Small Faces perform at a municipal hall and agreed that they were “Fab”. Turns out I was bored by the semi-literate stuff she showed me and that was the start of my disengagement with matters magical and the world of Wicca. Still loved Byron, though: an affection that has persisted over the decades.

I used the poem, Darkness, in a unit on Romantic Poetry featuring, among other works, My Chemical Romance’s The Black Parade in 2009. (FYI: neither the poem nor the Music CD were part of the increasingly irksome curriculum prescription of recommended texts to be duly recorded in the college’s computer.)

Byron’s apocalyptic picture of the end of the world was inspired by the year without a summer in 1816, a couple of hundred years ago, which was caused by the eruption of Mt Tambora: the most massive volcanic event of the 19th Century which killed tens of thousands of people and wiped out for all time the island culture of Sumbawa in the Indonesian archipelago. This was in the era before the telegraph and the later eruption of Krakatoa in 1883 has hogged the limelight: who now remembers Mt Tambora when its effects dumped snow in New England in June and famine in various parts of the world. An Italian so-called scientist’s prediction that the sun would go out on July 18th caused riots, suicides, and religious fervour all over Europe according to Jeffery Vail in “‘the Bright Sun was Extinguis’d’: The Bologna Prophecy and Byron’s ‘Darkness’.”   

The poem deals with the sun going out and the chaos that inevitably ensues. Two foes survive at the end of the world and they meet beside /The dying embers of an altar-place/ Where had been heap’d a mass of holy things /For an unholy usage; They blow on the embers and then, they lifted up/Their eyes as it grew lighter, and beheld/Each other’s aspects–saw, and shriek’d, and died /Even of their mutual hideousness they died,/Unknowing who he was upon whose brow/Famine had written Fiend. /The world was void/ Seasonless, herbless, treeless, manless, lifeless/The rivers, lakes, and ocean all stood still,/And nothing stirred within their silent depths; /The waves were dead; the tides were in their grave,/The moon their mistress had expir’d before;/ The winds were withered in the stagnant air,/And the clouds perish’d; Darkness had no need /Of aid from them-She was the Universe.

Pretty grim stuff, but youth have always been avid consumers of horror, death and destruction. Which brings me to another pop band the Mods were mad about- The Who. I saw them in concert that same summer in the Palace Ballroom, Douglas. At the end, Pete Townsend smashed his guitar and amp to the outrage of some among the crowd; indeed, it got a few boos and I must admit that I looked on in anguish as an electric guitar splintered onstage- I would have given my eye-teeth to have had one like it.

That year, The Rolling Stones, too, were drawing from the well of dark Romanticism when they wrote Paint It Black which charted at number one for ten weeks that spring and summer. But it would be a mistake to represent that time as one unrelievedly drenched in gloom- it was shot through with a happy vibe that, when you are 16, just goes on and on as you listen to The Kinks’ Sunny Afternoon or The Hollies’ Bus-stop or The Beatles’ Paperback Writer. The Seekers, Australia’s super group, sang bright, up-tempo folk-rock while back home Robin Askin, Premier of NSW, exhorted his driver to Run the bastards over, as Vietnam War protesters chanted at his august guest, Hey, Hey LBJ how many kids did you kill today!

 I’ll conclude, though, with lines from what must be one of the quirkiest songs Pete Townsend ever wrote but which captures how I was feeling that wonderful summer: Happy Jack wasn’t old, but he was a man/He lived in the sand at the Isle of Man/The kids couldn’t hurt Jack/They tried, tried, tried…/But they couldn’t stop Jack, or the waters lapping/And they couldn’t prevent Jack from feeling happy. Listen now to The Goodtimes of Doris and Ronnie [insert song]

In our next reading from Quotidia, The Letters attain the somewhat spurious dignity of a score- or 20 in modern lingo. In an attempt to drape itself in more sober garb, it examines what it means to be a hero or role-model. We meet again with the Greek hero Heracles and the soothsayer, Tiresias. As always, poetry gets a mention in that wonderful poem by Ian Mudie, My Father Began as a God. The pagans don’t get it all their own way because Daniel, he of Old Testament fame, graces the letter with his presence and provides several anecdotes of note as well as the wonderful tale of Susanna and the Elders. Lecherous predators everywhere- take note!

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.