Letters From Quotidia Episode 117 Wish You Could Be

Letters From Quotidia Episode 117 Wish You Could Be

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.

A definition of the noun velleity, according to Webster’s College Dictionary is, a mere wish, unaccompanied by an effort to obtain it or volition in its weakest form.  But what is the word if your wish is volition in its strongest form, that you wish for it with all your heart and soul- but that any effort to obtain it would be in vain because what you wish for is impossible? My curiosity about this led me, via the admirable site, Wordnik, to St Francis de Sales, who lived between 1567 and 1622. He was declared the patron saint of writers and journalists in 1923 by Pope Pius XI because of his use of broadsheets and books to influence opinion.

A bit of a mystic, he wrote, in his Treatise on the Love of God, we may well say: I would desire to be young; but we do not say: I desire to be young; seeing that this is not possible; and this motion is called a wishing, or as the Scholastics term it a velleity, which is nothing else but a commencement of willing, not followed out, because the will, by reason of impossibility or extreme difficulty, stops her motion, and ends it in this simple affection of a wish. So, that’s the answer to my question- but it leaves me feeling a little let down and so I continued to explore the issue. The Indonesians have a saying, Bagai pungguk merindukan bulan, which translates as, like an owl craving for the moon meaning, to wish for something impossible.

Porcine aviation is an indicator of impossibility in English- and also, incidentally, in German- Schweine können fliegen. The Greeks, Wikipedia informs me, have a word for it: Adynaton, which is a figure of speech in the form of hyperbole taken to such extreme lengths as to insinuate a complete impossibility.  Andrew Marvell, in his best-known poem, To His Coy Mistress, supplies a great example of the usage, Had we but world enough, and time/This coyness, lady, were no crime./We would sit down, and think which way/ To walk, and pass our long love’s day./Thou by the Indian Ganges’ side/Shouldst rubies find; I by the tide/Of Humber would complain. I would/Love you ten years before the flood/And you should, if you please, refuse/Till the conversion of the Jews.

Falstaff, in Henry IV, Part 2, exclaims, about Prince Hal, I will sooner have a beard grow in the palm of my hand than he shall get one on his cheek, a remark he will have cause to reflect on ruefully when the heedless, partying prince morphs into the ruthless Henry V. Meanwhile, folk wisdom offers the following quatrain to explicate the matter, If wishes were horses, beggars would ride./If turnips were watches, I’d wear one by my side./If “if’s” and “and’s” were pots and pans,/There’d be no work for tinkers’ hands. The form has a vigorous life in song, too, When apples still grow in November,/When blossoms still bloom from each tree,/When leaves are still green in December,/It’s then that our land will be free, as in this example from Only Our Rivers Run Free, written by Mickey MacConnell, about the constitutional status of Northern Ireland.

My first encounter with the word, velleity, was in 1969 when I was studying T.S. Eliot as part of my English course. I felt, unlike the lecturer, a sympathy for the older woman in Portrait of a Lady. We have been, let us say, to hear the latest Pole/Transmit the Preludes, through his hair and fingertips./ Here speaks the younger man of an older woman and we listen to his mocking imitation of her reaction to the concert, “So intimate, this Chopin, that I think his soul/Should be resurrected only among friends/Some two or three, who will not touch the bloom/That is rubbed and questioned in the concert room.”/A dash indicates his irritation as he sighs, —And so the conversation slips/Among velleities and carefully caught regrets/Through attenuated tones of violins/Mingled with remote cornets/And begins.

Again, through his exasperated remembrance we hear her continue, “You do not know how much they mean to me, my friends,/And how, how rare and strange it is, to find…a friend who has these qualities,/Who has, and gives/Those qualities upon which friendship lives. We, as readers are aware of the underlying desperation of the woman but all the younger member of this drawing room drama is aware of is, inside my brain a dull tom-tom begins/Absurdly hammering a prelude of its own.

It is clear that the liaison is foundering and will not last long. Youth and vitality are, as the poets have always told us in so many ways, fleeting and unconcerned by the travails of age. Perhaps dreams and wishes are separated by something not prey to pity and condescension, for, as Langston Hughes says in a lovely short poem, Hold fast to dreams/For if dreams die/Life is a broken-winged bird/That cannot fly.//Hold fast to dreams/For when dreams go/Life is a barren field/Frozen with snow. I was broken-winged,  frozen, and in a barren field, unable to function creatively, unable to craft a song or poem or story for many months after the death of my first-born son on a motorbike in October of 1989. And then, from mid-1991 the frozen ground cracked and springs of creativity started to bubble to the surface. This song was one of the fruits of that up-welling: [insert song]

The antepenultimate letter pays tribute to the tenor banjo magic of Barney McKenna, late, of the Dubliners. We see Samuel Johnson hopping about after kicking a stone to refute the ideas of Irish bishop and immaterialist philosopher George Berkeley. We listen to a limerick by clever English scholar and priest, Ronald Knox, who was also the perpetrator of a radio broadcast hoax on a nation that pre-dated Orson Welles effort by a dozen years. The poetry is provided by ancient Irish poet, Amergin, American free verse wiz, Carl Sandburg and, finally, African-American Paul Laurence Dunbar”s  Philosophy.

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 29

Letters From Quotidia Postcards Edition 29

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, the Postcards edition, number 29, a podcast by Quentin Bega where you will hear songs from the repertoire of Banter, a traditional Irish folk group from Sydney’s outer west. The four songs are drawn from the traditions of the English-speaking world. I will cover the songs because of COVID restrictions. And, as always, Quotidia is that space, that place, where ordinary people lead ordinary lives- but from time to time they encounter the extraordinary.

Scarlet Ribbons: The ballad that was perhaps Mr. Segal’s greatest hit, “Scarlet Ribbons,” flowed, he said, onto paper in a mere 15 minutes in 1949. It happened when he was invited to the Port Washington, N.Y., home of concert pianist Evelyn Danzig Levine to hear some of her formal compositions, according to the LA Times of February 2005. The first person I remember hearing sing this song was Jim Reeves He toured Ireland in 1963 and was immediately taken up by Irish audiences. A few years ago, with Banter, I gathered up the courage to subject myself to unflattering comparisons with Reeves, Belafonte, et. al. and sang Scarlet Ribbons in the Penrith Gaels Club. It’s long been a favourite of mine. For this lockdown version, I follow the less-is-more ideal. The 80 bpm slow ballad Band-in-a-Box combo with acoustic piano, guitars, bass and drums is used throughout the song with no added embellishments from fiddles, flutes etc. [insert song]

Little Old Wine Drinker, Me: was first released by Charlie Walker in 1966, on the album Wine, Woman & Walker. The song became a hit when it was released by Robert Mitchum in early 1967, and then by Dean Martin later the same year on his album Welcome to My World. I’ve loved the song from the moment I heard Dino’s suave delivery. This country-blues gem has a broken heart, a train, a bar, rain, and a jukebox. What more could you ask for, apart from a dog and a pick-up truck? (And who’s to say the narrator didn’t drive his beat-up old Ford from Nashville to Chicago with his best friend hanging his muzzle out of the passenger window?) The lockdown is still preventing live music gigs, so, here I use a basic Band-in-a-Box country ballad setting with Nashville drums, strummed and finger-picked guitars and bass. I bring up the fiddle in the second section and add the vocal.[insert song]

The Mountains of Mourne: Like so many high places, the Mournes have a mystical aura when you ascend one of the peaks. I did this, in the mid-1980s, with a group of students from The Ballymena Academy, in the company of Roger, a gentle but very fit R.E. teacher from the school. Before we were half-way up, I was struggling, regretting a lifetime of being unfit and rather fat. As the group ascended out of sight, I rested on a stone wall to recuperate. Then, vaulting over the wall came a trio of British soldiers who asked if I was part of their training team! Breathless, I assured them that I was not- and they loped away across the side of the mountain. I did finally get to the summit, and yes, as the cliché goes- it was worth it. Banter started to perform this song a couple of years ago as we were expanding the group’s repertoire. We remain in lockdown, so I use the virus, shamelessly, to purloin yet another of Sam the Man’s songs. I use Band-in-a-Box’s Medium Waltz setting featuring acclaimed session musos- Byron House on acoustic bass, Jeff Taylor on acoustic piano, Jason Roller on  strummed acoustic guitar and Brent Mason on finger-picked guitar. What more do you need? The solo vocal (with a touch of chorus on the last line of each verse) relates this artfully crafted story. [insert song]

O’Sullivan’s John: Patrick “Pecker” Dunne (1 April 1933 – 19 December 2012) was an Irish musician and seanchaí. Dunne was born in Castlebar, County Mayo, “in the old county home”. His family were Irish Travellers originally from County Wexford, where his father was a fiddle player. He was one of Ireland’s most noted banjo players and was also proficient on the fiddle, melodeon and guitar, and was among an elite of Traveller musicians. I first heard this song in Wollongong in 1974 when Joe Brown, Bertie McKnight, Tony Fitzgerald and I formed the group, Seannachie. Bertie told me he heard it from the writer, Pecker Dunne. Tony, a Londoner of Irish descent and our main singer, would belt this out at venues around the Illawarra. But I liked the song from first I heard it and would sing it- almost as a party piece- at informal gatherings in various places down the decades. I sing another version with Banter earlier in the Postcards but here I restore it to a more comfortable range for my voice. I only use two chords for this song, say, C and Bb, which swings along in 3/4 time. [insert song]

This leaves us with only one more postcard to audition- the last in the series. And, at this point, a month before you will hear it, I do not have any songs to preview for you as I am trying to transfer a cassette tape of Banter recorded some years back, to digital format. But first I have to fossick about for a device I remember buying many moons ago, which can perform this operation. It may prove to be our last hurrah, as it is a moot point whether Banter will even get back on stage. But failing that, I will resort to my faithful Band in a Box/RealBand combo and trot out some old favourites for the finale, stealing, with impunity from the repertoire of Jim and Sam the Man.

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 116 The Frost or the Fire

Letters From Quotidia Episode 116 The Frost or the Fire

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.

I have never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with great pleasure- Fine words! I wonder where you stole them. Hold your horses, Jonathan Swift!If you’d given me the time, I would have admitted my debt to Clarence Darrow, a famous- some would say, infamous- American lawyer. Will you be content if I quote lines from what I consider a minor masterpiece of yours? I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled, and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee, or a ragout.

Your stinging satire, A Modest Proposal, published anonymously in 1729, in which an unnamed proposer coolly advances his plan for simultaneously relieving Irish poverty and increasing the store of protein available for consumption by the moneyed classes, places your heart in Ireland with the urban and rural poor, even though the ambitions thronging your head wished for preferment among the upper echelons in England. Almost two hundred years later, we hear an impassioned speech in a courthouse in Tennessee, where Darrow is defending John T Scopes, a high school teacher who has run afoul of a law prohibiting the teaching of evolution in public schools,

If today you can take a thing like evolution and make it a crime to teach it in the public school, tomorrow you can make it a crime to teach it in the private schools…After a while, your honor, it is the setting of man against man and creed against creed until with flying banners and beating drums we are marching backward to the glorious ages of the sixteenth century when bigots lighted fagots to burn the men who dared to bring any intelligence and enlightenment and culture to the human mind. Both Darrow and Swift have their detractors: The Irish clergyman is often painted as a misanthrope because of the blackness of his vision, so apparent in his most famous work, Gulliver’s Travels and for his much-quoted words, principally I hate and detest that animal called man.  

But then he goes on to say, although I heartily love John, Peter, Thomas, and so forth. A true misanthrope wouldn’t take the time or effort to produce polemics aimed at altering the behaviour of his fellow human beings for the better. Darrow has been maligned for his greed for money and publicity, his lack of legal qualifications and his blind belief in deterministic science as the only lens through which the world can be revealed. A militant atheist, he claimed, the purpose of life is living. Men and women should get the most they can out of their lives. The smallest, tiniest intellect may be quite as valuable to society as the largest. It may be still more valuable to itself: it may have all the capacity for enjoyment that the wisest has. The purpose of man is like the purpose of the pollywog (this is not a racist epithet but an American dialect term for a tadpole)— to wriggle along as far as he can without dying; or to hang on until death takes him.

Two very different people, Swift the frosty satirist and Darrow the fiery populist; but both, at their core, believed in the worth of the individual, however insignificant, after their own fashion. There are two poets, among many such possible pairings, that I would put forward as representatives of the dichotomy between the frost and the fire: Robert Frost and Henry Lawson. Some say the world will end in fire,/Some say in ice./From what I’ve tasted of desire/I hold with those who favour fire./But if it had to perish twice,/I think I know enough of hate/To say that for destruction ice/Is also great/And would suffice.  Frost, the ironical, detached observer, in another poem, watches people on a beach looking out to sea, …wherever the truth may be-/The water comes ashore,/And the people look at the sea./They cannot look out far./They cannot look in deep./But when was that ever a bar/To any watch they keep?

Compare this to Henry Lawson in Macleay Street and Red Rock Lane, Macleay Street looks to Mosman,/Across the other side,/With brave asphalted pavements/And roadway clean and wide…Red Rock Lane looks to nowhere,/With pockets into hell;/Red Rock Lane is a horror/Of heat and dirt and smell…And-well, there seems no moral,/And nothing more to tell,/But because of that fierce sympathy/Of souls to souls in hell;/And because of that wild kindness/To souls in sordid pain,/My soul I’d rather venture/With some in Red Rock Lane.

And now, for something completely different: the song following was written in 1983 when I was afflicted by itchy feet and wanted to move on… At the time, I was working with a music student who challenged me to write something commercial, even if it be crass! OK! Have a listen and decide for yourselves  how crass and commercial it is. If it’s truly crass and commercial- offer me a million dollars for the rights![ insert song]

Our next stop in our tour of Quotidia finds us passing through, Velleity, the province of wishing wells, where, in every town square there are examples of these constructions in the centre, in pride of photogenic place. If you wish to throw in a few coins, well, why not? You’re on vacation after all, and you can post your ironic-oh-so-clever beneficence to your insta account for all your envious followers. However, if you are claiming this holiday as a tax-deductible study excursion, then it might be wise to cite the saint, Francis de la Sales as well as poets, Andrew Marvell, T.S. Eliot and Langston Hughes. As well, you may wish to flourish the six-syllable adjective antepenultimate as a way of identifying the next letter. If, on the contrary, you are simply out for a good time, then kick back and relax as the tour bus wends its way through more of the idyllic sights of yet another province of the mysterious land we all know as 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 has a co-writing credit for the song, The Frost or the Fire. 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 115 I Wish I Never Was

Letters From Quotidia Episode 115 I Wish I Never Was

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.

Sometimes, when you witness the glories of this earth, as, for example, you do, when viewing something like David Attenborough’s trilogy on the Great Barrier Reef, you sing hosannas to whatever forces have produced such splendour. All of my life, I have been entranced by films, exhibitions and documentaries on nature. From deep-sea fumaroles to deep-space imagery of unimaginably distant galaxies; from those infinitesimally small strings that, perhaps, may harmonise our existence to the immensity of all the possible multiverses, I have been enthralled by the mysteries of creation. Knowing that I will never pierce the inner workings of any of these arcane mysteries, I content myself with just saying: thank you. Glad to be here. Hope I get to stay a bit longer.

Lately, I have been counting my blessings. In youth and mid-life, I raged a fair bit about the injustice of it all. Particularly as it applied to me! Now, I just sit on my back veranda and watch an old friend’s pigeons wheel in the sky above as he prepares them for a competitive flight next weekend; or sipping a glass of shiraz, I watch a neighbour putting in a new roof as I listen, on the radio, to Richard Glover talk about stuff that only people in Sydney and, at a stretch, New South Wales would care about. And I laugh. It is just so great to be alive and part of this quotidian existence. Notice that I have used the word just a couple of times? I have used it, in each case, as an adverb meaning simply, but there is an underlying hook here.

How is it just? While living rather modestly in the outer west of Sydney for the past twenty years, I am aware that my lot is so much better than that so many others who live in this relatively wealthy country of Australia. In the world, most people alive today are living in more straitened circumstances than I. Most times, driven by the relentless round of getting and spending, I have been able to push this reality to one side. But there are times when something lodges and refuses to be dislodged.

Lodgement One, New Year’s Eve, Singapore, 1978, in a taxi going back to our hotel, I see an old Chinese woman dragging a load of cardboard behind her: the taxi slows for traffic lights, and our eyes meet. Lodgement Two, it’s 1981 and I have just cashed a cheque from RTE radio in Dublin who have bought a radio play and I go into the supermarket to stock up on some luxuries. Ahead of me, a young woman in threadbare coat, trying to soothe a squalling infant, pushes her trolley with basic necessities to the checkout and rummages through her purse for coins to cover her meagre purchases. She glances at my basket of superfluous goodies and then up and into my eyes. I could go on to enumerate a dozen such instances- but you get my drift.

It’s not sufficient merely to intone, there but for the grace of God go I. What do you do? And is it enough? In 1990, I watched a documentary film which was prompted by a report by Human Rights’ Commissioner Brian Burdekin into youth homelessness. I was shocked at the idea that there were up to 15,000 people under 18 in such circumstances. In 2007 Brian Burdekin raged at the lack of government action in the intervening years. Now, the figures stand at nearly 30,000. How’s that for progress? In 1991, I was commissioned to write a musical play for a theatre in North Queensland. The play was to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the theatre’s establishment. A friend, visiting from Ireland, had been having a few drinks with the theatre’s director and casually mentioned that I had written plays in Ireland.

So, I was asked to provide a draft that would involve various arts groups. I came up with a memory play that involved a young guy, homeless from childhood, who had travelled north from Sydney with his girlfriend, picking up infrequent odd jobs. They cross paths with indigenous people and also befriend a young woman, a test subject at a medical research centre, who had fled from the facility. A tropical cyclone also makes an appearance. A group of musicians played behind a scrim and it was only in the final minutes of the play that the scrim flew revealing that the audience were not listening to a backing tape, but a live group- one of several sleights of hand involved with the production.

The themes of homelessness, alienation, redemption were all at play and young dancers were choreographed skilfully into the whole. The central character, at an early stage of the play, states his feelings of hopelessness in the song that follows. Its epigraph, if it were to have one, would be Matthew 18:6, If anyone causes one of these little ones…to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. There should be a run on millstones.

That was written five years ago so what has happened in the interim? Anything of note? When I think back, just about everything is blocked out by the massive eclipse provided by COVID-19. But David Attenborough’s concern for the planet has amplified to the sound of a  klaxon; the Chinese are looking to surpass the US and Europe in the utilisation of space and just about everything else; the census of 2016 placed the number of homeless at over 60,000; the Great Barrier Reef has been classified as in danger by the UN; and democracy around the world is coming under attack, even in its modern homeland, the United States. However, I’m still drinking a nice Shiraz on my back verandah, listening to the radio and reflecting on our luck still holding here in Australia, even as my arm aches from my second vaccination. So, not all bad news here and I hope it is the same in your neck of the woods.[insert song]

Next up, Jonathan Swift and Clarence Darrow, with Henry Lawson and Robert Frost providing the poetry. So, see you in Quotidia for Letter 116.

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 114 You Ask How Much I Love You

Letters From Quotidia Episode 114 You Ask How Much I Love You

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.

Yet another incipit; the entry title comprises the first seven words of the song. A tricky question, as King Lear was to find out when his two eldest daughters responded in hyperbolistic terms to his demand to know the quality and quantity of their love for him: Sir, I do love you more than words can wield the matter,/Dearer than eyesight, space, and liberty,/Beyond what can be valued, rich or rare,/No less than life, with grace, health, beauty, honor,/As much as child e’er loved or father found—/A love that makes breath poor and speech unable./Beyond all manner of so much I love you.

This is Goneril, his eldest. Regan, the second-born sister, not the be outdone, claims, I find she names my very deed of love—/Only she comes too short, that I profess/Myself an enemy to all other joys,/Which the most precious square of sense possesses./And find I am alone felicitate/In your dear highness’ love. This tsunami of flattery prompts the ageing monarch to gift to each of these fulsome daughters a bounteous portion of the kingdom, though still reserving the quality cut for his favourite and youngest daughter, Cordelia. As you may guess, if you do not already know, it all ends in tears.

Nothing, she responds, allowing her personal distaste for her sisters’ hypocrisy, to cruel her chances for her father’s affection and largesse. Just as well, I hear the aesthetes among you murmur, otherwise we would have been deprived of one of the greatest tragedies of world literature. But pre-Christian Britain was not the only locus for love gone awry: the intemperate geriatric autocrat who rejects his loving daughter and banishes his faithful counsellor, Kent, for attempting to defend her, seems quite a placid, level-headed sort of fellow when compared to Shahryar, ruler of the Sassanid Empire who, upon learning of the infidelity of his wife, had her executed and then, in a stratagem to prevent further infidelity, married and murdered a succession of 1000 virgins after the consummation on the wedding night.

Now, even a great empire will run short of virgins in such circumstances, and the vizier, whose job it is to provide the daily delivery of young and innocent flesh for Shahryar, reluctantly gives into his daughter’s plea to offer herself up as ransom. Scheherazade, for such is the minx’s moniker, has a cunning plan: she regales the ruler with a story and a half each night, using the impending dawn as an excuse for failing to finish the second story. Shahryar, a true fan of narrative, stalls the execution until he can hear the conclusion of the story from the night before- and so it goes for a thousand and one nights and days until he grows besotted with the wily storyteller and she can relinquish her increasingly wearisome gambit for survival.

So, to all you creative types who moan about impending deadlines for the dross you are obliged to provide for a jaded public palate, reflect on the story of Scheherazade and- why not?- filch one of her life-saving tales as a template for your tedious  and thankless tasks. Rimsky-Korsakov shows the way in his enduringly popular symphonic suite of 1888 entitled Scheherazade. Chosen by many competitive skaters, including 2010 Olympic Gold medallist Evan Lysacek and 2014 Gold medallists, Charlie White and Meryl Davis for their free skating routines, this music is an ever-enchanting accompaniment.

Hyperbole is the default setting for expositions about love in any genre: bodice-rippers, in particular, would be lost without it. Auden’s justly famous Funeral Blues, uses it to exquisite comic effect, The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,/Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,/Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;/For nothing now can ever come to any good. Yes, the intensity that rages in the blood, driven by hormones coursing through the bewildered brain, lends itself to excess in everything- including language. And Shakespeare knows full well how to play this card time and again in his drama and poetry- but he can also, consummate show-off that he is, turn it on its head and create a splendid example of litotes, as in sonnet 130,

My mistress eyes are nothing like the sun./ Coral is far more red, than her lips red:/If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;/If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head./I have seen roses damasked, red and white,/But no such roses see I in her cheeks;/And in some perfumes is there more delight/Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks./I love to hear her speak, yet well I know/That music hath a far more pleasing sound:/I grant I never saw a goddess go,/ My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:/ And yet by heaven, I think my love as rare,/As any she belied with false compare.  

Oh, come on now audience, how can you expect anyone to compete with that? I can just about see you out there in the darkness in the theatre of the absurd, here at Quotidia’s Café Voltaire. The rustling of anticipation and low, rumbling murmurs are audible, and do I hear a squelching  sound? And is that a whiff of rotten tomatoes catching at the back of my throat!?[insert song]

Excuse me for a moment as I wipe the remnants of rotten tomatoes from my face. So, what now? Oh, yeah, what’s next? Well,  letter 115 is what may be termed BC/AC, that is, Before Covid and After Covid: the first part was written in 2016 and gives a glimpse of what sorts of things occupied the mind of the narrator as he luxuriated in the novelty, still fairly newly minted, of recent retirement from paid employment. Then, the final quarter, is a coda updating the letter to mid-winter Sydney, 2021. Of course, mid-winter Sydney has delivered quite a few days of sunshine with the temperatures nudging 20 degrees Celsius, which I noted, today beat an overcast mid-summer Dublin of 19 degrees – so, on balance, not a lot to complain about here in the outer western suburbs.

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 113 Slow Burn (A Title For My Song)

Letters From Quotidia Episode 113 Slow Burn (A Title For My 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.

1963 was a memorable year: especially for poet Philip Larkin, as he records in Annus Mirabilis, Sexual intercourse began/In nineteen sixty-three/(which was rather late for me) -/Between the end of the Chatterley ban/And the Beatles’ first LP. Lady Chatterley’s Lover, by D.H. Lawrence, became a cause celebre at the start of the 1960s, and according to some, began the deterioration of faith and morals that attached, somewhat unfairly and inaccurately, to that decade.

The release of the Beatles’ first LP, Please, Please Me, in March of 1963, marked a musical revolution- here was a group that wrote its own songs and played its own instruments. Exploding out of the blocks with McCartney’s, I Saw Her Standing There, She was just seventeen, you know what I mean…(Yes, Paul, we know) and wrapping up with Lennon’s hoarse rock version of Twist and Shout, I was one of the first kids in Aruba to hear this phenomenal group, thanks to my older brother, who brought the LP out with him during his bi-annual visit for the summer holidays, courtesy of the oil company my father worked for.

Music started to permeate our lives as we attended the Seroe Colorado High School hops of a Friday night: I recall Tornado by the Telstars, Walk Like a Man by the Four Seasons, It’s My Party by Lesley Gore and My Boyfriend’s Back by The Angels. Roy Orbison, Chuck Berry and The Beach Boys were on high rotation at these popular functions as we shimmied, shook and twisted under the tropical night skies. Some of the cooler kids came back from trips back to the States with talk about the protest music of Joan Baez and Bob Dylan- but this music never made the playlists for the hops.

As I was thinking about those distant dances, Edmund Blunden’s The Midnight Skaters popped into my mind. How incongruous! was my initial reaction. A poem which describes a rustic pre-war setting among the hop-fields of Kent on a frozen pond seems a million miles from the affluent bubble that was the expatriate community of Aruba in the early sixties. The hop-poles stand in cones,/The icy pond lurks under,/The pole-tops steeple to the thrones/Of stars, sound gulfs of wonder;/But not the tallest thee, ’tis said,/Could fathom to this pond’s black bed. But as I pondered the intrusion of this poem into my reverie, I realised that the distance of age gave me perspective, as it did, with so much more effect, this wonderful English poet, then is not death at watch/Within those secret waters? /What wants he but to catch/Earth’s heedless sons and daughters? /With but a crystal parapet/Between, he has his engines set.

Aren’t we all earth’s heedless sons and daughters? And don’t you, like me, fall on your knees in thankfulness for our poets who tell us our innermost secrets and reveal to us a common language that we did not know we owned until they shared it with us? Over the years, I have heard the bell toll for so many of those who have shared that dance-floor. And not only my companions on that Caribbean crystal parapet, but those who have shared the dance with me in Ireland and Australia, Then on, blood shouts, on, on, /Twirl, wheel and whip above him, /Dance on this ball-floor thin and wan, / Use him as though you love him;/Court him, elude him, reel and pass, /And let him hate you through the glass.

As I grow older, I become more grateful for the largesse bestowed upon me by those artists, present and past, who grow my soul. Of course, 1963 was known for darker deeds than racy song lyrics. JFK’s assassination in November of that year casts its pall over much of what was note-worthy that year: who now remembers the final project of NASA’s Mercury mission where, as Wikipedia tells us, The Faith 7 spacecraft carried astronaut Gordon Cooper into space for about 34 hours during which he orbited the Earth 22 times. The purpose of the mission was to test the limits of the Mercury space capsule. Cooper’s flight was about three times longer than any other human space flight that had been completed at that point in history. It also marked the final time that NASA launched a solo orbital mission.

Space nerds like me do. That year also saw important landmarks which have not been forgotten, I Have a Dream, by Martin Luther King, was delivered earlier that year, the rhetoric of which still echoes down the corridors of history. And not wanting to push the from-the-sublime-to-the-ridiculous button too often, can I report that the release of the Beatles’ I Want to Hold Your Hand, one week after Kennedy’s assassination, was destined to chart at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 and cause all of the tweens and teens in Aruba to throw theirs arms in the air in chorus as they joined the less-than-profound shout, I want to hold your ha-a-a-a-a-nd?[insert song]

Letter 114 introduces the second incipit of the series and we have a look at King Lear and his three daughters, Goneril, Regan and Cordelia in the famous Which of you loves me most scene. We are suitably appalled at what Shahryar, ruler of the Sassanid Empire, did upon discovery of his wife’s infidelity, foiled only after the slaughter of a thousand virgins, by Scheherazade, the wily storyteller immortalised in Rimsky-Korsakov’s orchestral work beloved of Olympic figure-skaters the world over. W. H. Auden’s justly famous Funeral Blues tap dances across the stage as a great example of hyperbole.

Then, that monstrous gorilla in any roomful of poets, Shakespeare, flips that figure of speech on its head with the sonnet My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun. Can you guess which foolhardy podcaster and songwriter intends to offer, for comparison, a similar exercise in litotes? Which is just a fancy way of saying, understatement. Come then, to the theatre of the absurd in Quotidia, with a handful of rotten tomatoes, if you insist, to witness the hapless sap attempting such a feat.

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 28

Letters From Quotidia Postcards Edition 28

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, the Postcards edition, number 28, a podcast by Quentin Bega where you will hear songs from the repertoire of Banter, a traditional Irish folk group from Sydney’s outer west. The four songs are drawn from the traditions of the English-speaking world. I will cover the songs because of COVID restrictions. And, as always, Quotidia is that space, that place, where ordinary people lead ordinary lives- but from time to time they encounter the extraordinary.

The Irish Rover: is an Irish folk song about a magnificent though improbable sailing ship that reaches an unfortunate end. It has been recorded by numerous artists, some of whom have made changes to the lyrics over time. Burl Ives is the earliest artist I can find who sang the song- his 1959 version, where he accompanies himself on nylon guitar, holds up rather well, over 60 years later. Of course, he was a noted singer with a great voice as well as actor and entertainer. He cruelled his place in history, IMHO, by recanting his socialist links during the McCarthyite blacklist period by appearing before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1952 and by naming names to preserve his income from various projects in the entertainment industry. This precipitated a bitter rift between Ives and folk singers such as Pete Seeger, which lasted for decades. The first time I heard the song, though, was from a 1962 Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem vinyl disc recorded live in a Chicago night-club. It was the first song on the first side. This group is arguably the catalyst for the explosion of Irish folk music in Ireland and across the world in the decades since this great recording. When The Dubliners teamed with The Pogues in 1987 the song gained a new lease on life. Here’s my take on the song with Band in the Box accompaniment.[ insert song]

Will Ye Go Lassie Go: Will Ye Go Lassie Go? is an Irish/Scottish folk song. The lyrics and melody are a variant of the song “The Braes of Balquhither” by Scottish poet Robert Tannahill (1774–1810) and Scottish composer Robert Archibald Smith (1780–1829), but were adapted by Belfast musician Francis McPeake (1885–1971) into “Wild Mountain Thyme” and first recorded by his family in the 1950s. McPeake is said to have dedicated the song to his first wife, but his son wrote an additional verse in order to celebrate his father’s remarriage. “Wild Mountain Thyme” was first recorded by McPeake’s nephew, also named Francis McPeake, in 1957 for the BBC series As I Roved Out [insert song]

The Shores of Botany Bay: The first fleet under Captain Arthur Phillip landed there on 20 January 1788 and, finding Banks’s account of its suitability much exaggerated, moved on to Port Jackson, landing at Sydney Cove. Nevertheless, the name Botany Bay became synonymous with Australia… as a convict settlement. The song was collected from Duke Tritton by John Meredith. Tritton learned the song while busking in Sydney early in the 20th century. He also wrote the last verse. Second verse is from Therese Radic’s Songs of Australian Working Life. It has long been a favourite in Aussie bush music circles and Banter regularly features it with Sam the Man taking the vocals. This, though, is a lockdown special where I usurp Sam’s role, ably assisted by the Band-in-a-Box/RealBand combo featuring acoustic bass, Nashville drums, nylon guitar, fiddle, electric pickin’ and clean guitars as well as solo bluegrass mandolin and accordion. I have read somewhere that the song originated in 19th Century English music-hall. But what cares I when it has such up-beat energy- not all immigrant songs have to be doleful, after all. [insert song]

A Bunch of Thyme: The Sprig of Thyme, The Seeds of Love, Maiden’s Lament, Garners Gay, Let No Man Steal Your Thyme or Rue (Roud #3) is a  traditional British and Irish folk ballad that uses botanical and other symbolism to warn young people of the dangers in taking false lovers. The song was first documented in 1689 and the many variants go by a large number of titles. The metaphor of the garden within which are found, the herb- thyme, and the flower- the rose, are potent symbols in song and literature. One can find such metaphors in the Bible and other texts stretching back millennia. That such a sweet-sounding melody is undercut by the symbolism inherent in the plants mentioned gives the song its peculiar force. I first heard this on Christy Moore’s LP Whatever Tickles Your Fancy which sported a cover photo of a young Christy leaning against a dartboard. No fancy or fanciful artwork at play here at all! I have an idea that Christy collected the version he sings from a woman in England. And, according to an internet source (so it must be true…) he gave it to Foster and Allen, which kick-started their career. Be nice if it were true. This would have been in 1976. I brought it back to Australia from a holiday in Northern Ireland along with a bunch of other great folk albums, and the band I was in then, Seannachie, started to feature it. When Banter formed in the mid-1990s, Jim took up this fine song. Here in lockdown, I present it in an arrangement featuring a couple of guitars, bass, Nashville drums, organ, mandolin and fiddle in a soft folk-rock mode. [insert song]

For postcard 29 we will be travelling to the realm of nostalgia as we search the deserted streets and stores for some scarlet ribbons; perhaps disconsolate after finding none, we will enter a bodega or cantina or wine-bar and ask for a glass of something to assuage the thirst of a little old wine drinker who will, no doubt, after finishing a draught or two of red biddy, wax maudlin and think about the far off, misty and much-missed Mountains of Mourne. But, much emboldened by the potations we will watch as the narrator stumbles out the door in search of a tinker’s band to join as along the road they shall roam. So, join us all, next week as we peruse the penultimate postcard 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. 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 112 BMD (Birth Marriage Death)

Letters From Quotidia Episode 112 BMD (Birth Marriage Death)

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.

Back in the mid-eighties, I collaborated with an ex-student of mine from Ballymena Academy to compose a jazz suite as part of his honours music course at Queen’s University, Belfast. I came up with the idea of a set of lyrics based on parts of the newspaper: the headline, the horoscope, the page three girlie shot, and so on. We met over the summer months in the pleasant coastal village of Cushendall and hammered out a draft- I handled the lyrics and he composed the music.

All went well until, in the autumn term, I received an urgent telephone call one Friday evening: the suite was not long enough as drafted and the deadline for submission was looming. So that night, I stayed up until about 2:00 a.m. working on the lyrics and music. The next day, I drove to Belfast with my guitar and lyrics and we worked in the Whitla Hall at Queen’s as he sat at the grand piano and composed a jazz score of the song I had written. It sufficed, and we later recorded the suite at BBC Northern Ireland for radio broadcast with the Desmond Harlan Quartet and Candy Devine as singer. 

In the thirty-plus years since, I wrote a number of songs that seemed worthwhile keeping and, having well over a hundred examples, thought it time to gather them together. Here is text from the introduction, I’ll start with a banal assertion: there must be defining moments. The dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima, the assassination of JFK, Sept 11, 2001-in our era- are  big moments prompting questions such as where were you? when that happened. But that’s history. In our own lives, Births, Marriages and Deaths used to be those Red (or Black) Letter days recorded in family Bibles (or analogous familial archives). Now, those time-honoured milestones are increasingly quaint, it seems.

Our personal histories are now far more idiosyncratic, tied to the minutiae of a day-to-day existence that is often driven by a fear of missing out. So, that is what The Summa Quotidian is: defining moments, captured in song, which forms a quasi-chronicle of my life and musings. I had tried to keep a diary, as so many do. It didn’t go anywhere, though. At one stage I kept a record of the books I had read and my reactions to them. At other times I tried to chronicle in prose my responses to the TV shows, music and films I was avidly consuming. Sometimes I even found the energy to write for TV, Radio and the Stage. And several of these effusions found an outlet. All worthy, but limited in time to a matter of months as writing projects, and limited, too, in their range.

Songs, taken as individual works, might seem to be even more limited- and, indeed, they are, until you see them as a larger grouping linked by a unifying (and an ageing, if not evolving) sensibility. Then they form a larger picture. A gestalt of the zeitgeist, perhaps? What I have held on to consistently over the decades, and what I could carry in my head, retrieve, and reconstruct after a time, was the minor art-form of song. From my early teens I inhaled the melodies and the words of popular song. Before I could play an instrument I knew that this was something I could (and would) do as naturally as I breathe: write songs. And, as I live and breathe, that’s what I’ve done. For better or worse, for most of my life.

Here assembled, are ten collections of twelve songs. They are not strictly sequential. I think of a reef, off a stormy shore. Ten caravels, one after the other, are wrecked on the stony spines and the currents and vagaries of wind and weight wash the cargoes ashore to be caressed by the tides into figurations that are found, at a later date, by beachcombers. They may speculate on the provenance of each trove and, who knows, they could be right (or wrong) as they piece together a putative chronology. If you entered the world when I did (and this would put your date of birth about the midpoint of the 20th Century), then, a lot of the references and terms will be second- nature to you: especially if, like me, you were a product of the postwar West and you found the reading of books to be a harmless but consuming addiction.

So, what’s it all about, really? The answer is- not very much. You live day by day. You take stuff in. You go to the pub or club or bed or wherever… and you talk…to someone…(or no one?) And they say, what do you think about…? and you say whatever occurs to you . Or it’s the other way round. And it’s important. At the time. Sometimes, though, you’re only blowing smoke. Sometimes a song gets written. The Summa hangs together by gossamer threads such as these. And the shape it is is what it is. It’s just…stuff! But as the incomparable Bard wrote at the conclusion of his last play, We are such stuff/ As dreams are made on, and our little life/ Is rounded with a sleep. But not just yet, please, still a few songs to go and one hopes, quite a few more sleeps, too! So Clotho, keep spinning the thread of my life, Lachesis, keep drawing it out, and Atropos, keep those scissor -blades open for a little while longer, yet…[insert song]

The next letter apotheosises the year 1963: the release of the Beatles’ first LP, a landmark event in popular culture; poet, Phillip Larkin’s first sexual adventure as recorded in his wonderfully droll poem, Annus Mirabilis; Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream, which kick-started a whole new era of civil rights in the US ; the final project of NASA’s Mercury mission where, according to Wikipedia, The Faith 7 spacecraft carried astronaut Gordon Cooper into space for about 34 hours during which he orbited the Earth 22 times. But of course, what year, however mirabilis it may be, is without its dark side, and 1963, with the assassination of JFK, in November of that year, also killed the dream of Camelot which was finally extinguished utterly, in my opinion, with the assassination of his brother, Robert in June of 1968. But, persist with me in believing that the light prevails.     

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. And here I acknowledge Mark Dougherty as co-writer of the song BMD. Illustrative excerpts from other texts are 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 111 Sidekick

Letters From Quotidia Episode 111 Sidekick

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 do Porky Pig, Tonto and Dr Watson have in common? The entry title gives it away, I guess. They’re all the sidekick to the protagonist they support: Daffy Duck, The Lone Ranger and Sherlock Holmes, respectively. Defined by Wikipedia as a close companion or colleague (not necessarily in fiction) who is actually, or generally regarded as, subordinate to the one he accompanies, the sidekick has a special place in our hearts.  By asking questions of the hero, or giving the hero someone to talk to, the sidekick provides an opportunity for the author to provide exposition, thereby filling the same role as a Greek chorus. Sidekicks frequently serve as an emotional connection, especially when the hero is depicted as detached and distant, traits which might make it difficult to like the hero.

Of course, every hero needs the opposition of a villainous antagonist. The villain often mirrors the hero by also having a secondary accomplice. But these are not dignified by the label, sidekick. A villain’s supporters are normally called henchmen, minions, or lackeys, not sidekicks. While this is partially a convention in terminology, it also reflects that few villains are capable of bonds of friendship and loyalty, which are normal in the relationship between a hero and sidekick. This may also be due to the different roles in fiction of the protagonist and the antagonist: whereas a sidekick is a relatively important character due to his or her proximity to the protagonist, and so will likely be a developed character, the role of a henchman is to act as cannon-fodder for the hero and his sidekick. As a result, henchmen tend to be anonymous, disposable characters, existing for the sole purpose of illustrating the protagonists’ prowess as they defeat them.

This truth can be amply demonstrated by viewing Peter Jackson’s Rings trilogy and even more so, The Hobbit films: how many orcs, goblins and assorted ghoulish monsters perish under the axes, swords, and spells of Tolkien’s heroes.Far too many to adequately sustain suspension of disbelief, in my experience. I remember not playing Cowboys and Indians as a kid in Aruba because no one wanted to be one of the Indians, fated to lose every encounter; so, we were each our own hero, pe-yoo, pe-yooing mouth salvos as we invariably avoided the fatal bullet, conceding only wounds to the left shoulder, leaving our deadly right-hand fully functioning into the descending dusk or until some other diversion attracted our attention.

Embrouded was he, as it were a meede,/Al ful of fresshe floures, whyte and reede;/ Syngynge he was, or floytynge, al the day,/ He was as fressh as is the monthe of May. This is The Squire, from the General Prologue of The Canterbury Tales, and he is my ideal for the youthful sidekick. Nameless, he shines from the fourteenth century as a template of the type, Wel koude he sitte on hors, and faire ryde./ He koude songes make, and wel endite,/ Juste, and eek daunce, and weel purtreye and write./ So hoote he lovede, that by nyghtertale/ He slepte namoore than dooth a nyghtyngale./ Not only was he passionate and accomplished in all the knightly arts, but humility and loyalty were also part of his repertoire, Curteis he was, lowely, and servysable,/ And carf biforn his fader at the table.

Now past the age of 70, it is futile to aspire to this template and so I must look to a more mature example of the species. Perhaps Sancho Panza, the sidekick of Don Quixote may serve. Panza means paunch in Spanish, so this bit fits. The online Britannica notes that his gross appetite, common sense, and vulgar wit serve as a foil to the mad idealism of his master. This, too, induces sparks of recognition but in the end fails to start a fire. Ultimately, perhaps, there is no single template that will do because so many of us are, in fact, only sidekicks within our own narrative, where we are daily confronted with the realisation that we lack a hero who would transform the challenges we meet.

To aspire to be a named sidekick outside of our own story is too lofty an ambition for most: who would be so big-headed as to compare themselves to Sam Gamgee? Robin, The Boy Wonder? Or even, Donkey from Shrek?Some may find an image of themselves in the poem Sidekicks, by American poet, Ronald Koertge: They were never handsome and often came/with a hormone imbalance manifested by corpulence,/a yodel of a voice or ears big as kidneys. Of course, as we all know, the most important attributes are not those of physicality but those of character, as the poem makes clear, But each was brave. More than once a sidekick/has thrown himself in front of our hero in order/to receive the bullet or blow meant for that/perfect face and body.

In this song, stanza one looks at the  mundane, even, cliched, home life of the sidekick and stanza two takes the longer view, especially his yearning for an actual name-  I have subjected him to the indignity of not possessing this attribute that any self-respecting sidekick requires!  In the  final, one line-coda, there is an emphasis on the essential, existential equality of the hero and sidekick. But in expiation for this peccadillo, I have, rather nobly, I think, burdened myself with the task of using a rare rhyme scheme that I have only used one before in the songs for this project- in The Morrigan. The rhyme scheme is: abcddcba, not terribly effective as it is hard to spot-apart from rhymes 4 and 5 which stitch stanzas one and two together, and, at a stretch, possibly discernible are rhymes 3 and 6- but for the rest, not likely.  [insert song]

Letter 112 finds the narrator in a revelatory mood where he explains the genesis of the source material for the Quotidia letters. Revealed, also, is his collaboration with a music professional in the composition of a jazz suite: his part was to come up with a concept&craft a set of lyrics to go with the music.

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 110 Now We’re 64

Letters From Quotidia Episode 110 Now We’re 64

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 strange how the gravitational pull of the stellar personalities in our youth, no matter how fast and far we thought we had travelled in the years since, draw us into an orbit of obeisance, or, at least, sincere acknowledgement of influence.  Just over 10 years ago, as I lurched through the barrier of sixty calendar years on the planet, I began to think of eschatological matters with a little more attention: I mean, even with the most optimistic and deluded of outlooks, one would have to agree that the past was more packed with incident and longevity than the years ahead will prove to be.

So, I wrote a song which touched upon matters encompassing the fifty plus years I have known my wife. Now, as a personal aside, as I write this, we have just celebrated our 50th  Wedding Anniversary, in lockdown rather than in a swish apartment overlooking the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House-thank you COVID!  And, as Hendrix wrote in lyrics to the song on the B side of his monster hit Purple Haze which I bought way back in March of 1967, For fifty years they’ve been married and they can’t wait for the fifty first to roll around…  Anyway, back to the song at the end of this post.

As my inspiration, I took a song from the Beatles’ St. Pepper’s album, Paul McCartney’s, When I’m 64. Although the theme is “ageing”, Wikipedia informs me, it was one of the first songs McCartney wrote, when he was 16.It was on the Beatles playlist in their early days as a song to perform when their amplifiers broke down or the electricity went off. Lennon said, in his 1980 interview for Playboy, “I would never even dream of writing a song like that.” But, I did, at age 63. And I’m not Robinson Crusoe, in this regard either. Lots of other people, riffing off the McCartney song, have registered in song or verse or prose, reflections on reaching age 64.

And almost fifty years before the Beatles set the song in vinyl, T.S. Eliot, in one of his finest poems, explored age in a poem, the title of which, means old manGerontion. …Vacant shuttles/ Weave the wind.  I have no ghosts,/ An old man in a draughty house/ Under a windy knob.// After such knowledge, what forgiveness? Think now/History has many cunning passages, contrived corridors/ And issues, deceives with whispering ambitions,/ Guides us by vanities./ I was neither at the hot gates/ Nor fought in the warm rain/ Nor knee deep in the salt marsh, heaving a cutlass… I have lost my sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch:… These with a thousand small deliberations… multiply variety in a wilderness of mirrors…

McCartney was only 16 when he wrote his song; Eliot was twice his age- 32- when he wrote his poem. But neither, by any stretch, could be considered old. Are our senior poets, then, so immured in their senescence, that we can learn nothing from them? Not so! Carol Ann Duffy, that redoubtable poet (and laureate) wrote, introducing a selection of poems from senior British poets in The Guardian back in 2010, I invited the poets here to write, in any way they chose, about ageing. Our society, I believe, is turning gradually away from its obsession with “yoof” and “slebs”. We are beginning to realise that we face, at the very least, an uncertain future, one in which wisdom and experience – and respect – will need to be accorded a more important role. Nice thought, Carol Ann, if only it were true. Looked at any Tik-Toks recently?

All the old gods have become enfeebled,/mere playthings for poets. Few, doze or daft,/frolic on Parnassian clover, wrote Dannie Abse, a notable poet, who died at age 91, in 2014. For Ruth Fainlight, aged 85, and close friend of Sylvia Plath in the years before that poet’s suicide, ageing, means no more roller-skating./That used to be my favourite/ sport, after school, every day:… When I saw that young girl on her blades,/wind in her hair, sun on her face,… racing/her boyfriend along the pavement:/– then I understood ageing. Interesting, and amusing, is Roger McGough’s re-working of his famous 1967 poem, Let Me Die A Youngman’s Death, where he spurns the decorous, fading-away-like-the-smoke-of-a-blown-candle sort of death for one that is full of incident, violence, lasciviousness and noise- although not before the age of 73 at the earliest! Now, at age 78, he admits, My nights are rarely unruly. My days/of allnight parties are over, well and truly./No mistresses no red sports cars/no shady deals no gangland bars/no drugs no fags no rock’n’roll/Time alone has taken its toll.

I guess, that for Roger and me and so many others in- what do you call them- our golden years, a dose of Lily the Pink’s medicinal compound would be just what the doctor ordered! I’ll finish by reference to a poem by erudite British-based Australian poet, Peter Porter who died in 2010, aged 81, shortly after submitting, Random Ageist Verses, for inclusion in the Guardian article. In this short poem of ten quatrains rhyming abab, he ranges wittily across age-related themes, citing Churchill, Auden, Hardy and Hyden, with insights such as, Immersed in time, we question time/And ask for commentators’ rights/The amoeba has a taste for slime/ Among its range of appetites concluding with these lines that surely only the wisdom of age can craft, The greyness of the sky is streaked/Along its width with shades of red;/The pity of the world has leaked/ But who are these whose hands have bled? [insert song]

As a bit of light relief from heavyweight poets and the like, the next Letter poses  the sort of question that fans of pop culture lap up like Sylvester lipping his saucerful of milk: What do Porky Pig, Tonto and Dr Watson have in common? Intelligensia among you, however, need not despair: there are ample examples from poetry and literature to satisfy those whose brows range from middling to high. So, come one, come all, the sweet land of Quotidia awaits your call.

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.