Letters From Quotidia Postcards Edition 27

Letters From Quotidia Postcards Edition 27a

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, the Postcards edition, number 27, 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.

Whiskey in the Jar, one of the best known traditional Irish vocal ballads, probably originated in the mid-17th century, according to folklorist Alan Lomax, and it has been found in dozens of forms on both sides of the Atlantic. The song is, as one might guess from the title, a favourite drinking and pub song among fans of Irish music all over the world. I learned the song early in 1972 from one of the booklets from the series, Irish Folk Songs. With Seannachie in Wollongong, Tony Fitzgerald sang it and later, with Banter in Sydney in the 1990s, Sam the Man sang it. However, down the years, when I was singing on my own in pubs or clubs or as a duo with my wife, I would regularly ride out upon the old warhorse. The virus allows this virtual version, so, I’ll Ride On![ insert song]  

I wrote about Spancil Hill in an earlier version of Postcards featuring  our singer, Sam. Now, I’ll put a bit more info around this composition. Spancil Hill is in County Clare…its fair is one of the oldest horse fairs in Ireland, held annually on 23 June. Spancil refers to the practice of “spancilling,” which was to use a short rope to tie an animal’s left fore-leg to its right hind leg, thereby hobbling the animal and stopping it from wandering too far. Michael Considine emigrated to the United States of America around 1870. He left intending to make enough money to send for his sweetheart so they could be married. Considine worked in Boston for two years or so before moving to California. In failing health, he wrote the poem in memory of the hometown he would not live to see again. Michael Considine died in California in 1873 at the age of twenty-three. I first learned the song from a Johnny McEvoy record in 1972 and I sang it around Wollongong when we moved there. At present, Sam the Man sings it with our group Banter (now in suspended animation thanks to the virus). This is my lockdown version. [insert song] 

The basis of One of the Has-Beens is Polly Perkins…a famous English song, composed by the London music hall and broadside songwriter Harry Clifton (1832-1872), and first published in 1864. A.L. Lloyd sang One of the Has-Beens in 1958 on his Wattle album, Across the Western Plains. He commented in the album’s sleeve notes: I first heard this one New Year’s Day, in the late 1920’s, in hospital in Cowra, N.S.W. I now learn from [Douglas] Stewart and [Nancy] Keesing’s Old Bush Songs [Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1957] that One of the Has-Beens is the work of a former horse-breaker, shearer and gold-digger named Robert Stewart, born 1833 in N.S.W. I reckon that the Australian lyrics that you hear on this post perfectly capture the loss of vitality, strength and skill that even the gun shearers would suffer should they live long enough to experience the inevitable effects of ageing. I first heard this song in Wollongong in the 1970s, sung a capella by the late Kevin Baker, a noted Illawarra poet and songwriter with whom I had a long association.[insert song]  

The Old Bog Road: Teresa Brayton, who wrote the lyrics to this song, knew most of the leaders of the 1916 rising and around her neck she wore a chain, a piece of the flagstaff which flew the flag of the Irish Republic from the G.P.O. in Dublin on Easter Monday 1916. The chain was given to her by Countess Markievicz. Many Irish people, of a certain age, know of an old bog road from their own youth or that of their parents. Just a few yards up the road from where I lived in Cushendall was the start of The Old Road which led from the Barrack Brae across the foot of Lurigethan onto the Ballyeamon Road which connected the village to Ballymena. It was unpaved and passable only on foot or by tractor and I quite often used it as a short-cut to my cousin John’s farm. It made for an idyllic wandering in Spring or Summer. The song is much excoriated by woke folk- but where do I stand in this minor skirmish on one of the battlefronts of the culture wars that engulf our hapless planet in the 21st Century? Somewhere in between, initially. But, then, a few years ago, my wife suggested the song to me for our band, Banter, as it was the favourite song of her father’s and one he used to sing many years ago. The song grew on me as I started to research its origins and as I worked on the music. So, I guess I’m now on the side of the song’s protagonists. At the time of recording this, we are still in lockdown and I present my Band-in-a-Box version. It features the twin fingerpicking guitar wizardry of Brent Mason and Jason Rolling. With Nashville drums, acoustic bass, and piano, it provides a suitable accompaniment, IMHO, for this emigrant song of longing. [insert song]

Postcard 28 features lockdown versions  of The Irish Rover and A Bunch of Thyme– songs covered in earlier postcards by Jim. It also features Will Ye Go Lassie Go and The Shores of Botany Bay which are from the repertoire of 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 108 An Impervious Wall

Letters From Quotidia An Impervious Wall

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.

Before I built a wall, I’d ask to know/What I was walling in or walling out,/And to whom I was like to give offence./Something there is that does not love a wall, that wants it down. Truly spoken, Robert Frost. Another poet, W. H. Auden wrote about Hadrian’s Wall in Roman Wall Blues, where he captures the loneliness and misery of sentinels the world over throughout history as they stand vigil on their particular wall and peer into the mist for signs of the enemy, The rain comes pattering out of the sky,/I’m a Wall soldier, I don’t know why. There is something about walls that engender complacency- in Edwin Muir’s poem, The Castle, the besieged look unconcernedly from the turret walls surrounding the fortress at the foe half a mile distant confident in the knowledge of their ample provisions, brave defenders, stout fortifications and allies drawing near.

But… There was a little private gate,/A little wicked wicket gate./The wizened warder let them through. And why? Our only enemy was gold,/And we had no arms to fight it with. So-called Chinese walls in financial, commercial and legal institutions are supposed to guarantee probity in matters where conflicts of interest may occur but this does not stop regular breaches of the walls and laws in all of these sectors. The actual Great Wall of China is stupendous to look at but failed miserably in its purpose of keeping out determined invaders, who simply rode around it or had its gates opened by traitors.

The Berlin Wall failed and one may surmise (indeed, hope) that similar walls still in place around the world, will ultimately fail, too. Something there is that does not love a wall. Are you listening, Donald Trump, as you plot a return to the White House? Walls made of unobtainium remain the ideal of oppressors throughout time and place. Such a wall would be impervious to any agency, method or technology. Impenetrable, resisting any level of energy or density of matter, this wall would serve the wildest fantasies of even the most certifiable of megalomaniacs. But it’s out of reach in our material world. The only place such walls can be forged are in the furnaces of the dogmatic mind. Is there anything in this universe more adamantine than the certitude of the religious bigot or political ideologue?

The wailing wall has been a place of pilgrimage for centuries and the practice of leaving prayers on scraps of paper stuffed into cracks is one that fulfils a deep human need to connect in a tangible way with sacred places. In the city of Leiden, the Netherlands, there is a modern version of the wailing wall, it seems to me. Two artists, Ben Walenkamp and Jan-Willem Bruins, with the assistance of various civic and philanthropic bodies arranged that on various walls throughout the city you will be able read 101 poems by a range of poets, starting in 1992 with a poem in Russian by Marina Tsvetaeva, concluding in 2005 with the Federico Garcia Lorca poem, De Profundis,

Those hundred lovers/are asleep forever/beneath the dry earth./Andalusia has/long, red-coloured roads./Córdoba, green olive trees/for placing a hundred crosses/to remember them./Those hundred lovers/are asleep forever. Assassinated, himself, in shadowy circumstances in 1936, his friend Pablo Neruda, explained that the poet had a premonition of his impending death, relating to him that, waking just before dawn Lorca walked to the ruins of a feudal estate on the outskirts of a village in Castile, Suddenly Federico felt oppressed as if by something about to come out of the dawn, something about to happen. He sat down on the broken-off capital of a pillar lying toppled there. A tiny lamb came out to browse in the weeds among the ruins, appearing like an angel of mist, out of nowhere, to turn solitude into something human, dropping like a gentle petal on the solitude of the place. The poet no longer felt alone. Suddenly a herd of swine also came into the area. There were four or five dark animals, half-wild pigs with a savage hunger and hoofs like rocks. Then Federico witnessed a blood-curdling scene: the swine fell on the lamb and, to the great horror of the poet, tore it to pieces and devoured it.

So, was this sublime poet, musician and playwright, taken to some pock-marked wall and slaughtered; his body later disposed of in a manner shrouded, to this day, in mystery? Yet another young life cut short. I used to yearn, like the Roman wall soldier in Auden’s poem for the days, When I’m a veteran with only one eye/I shall do nothing but look at the sky. Having passed the 70-year mark, I think, I’ve reached that point. And I recall the words of Moe Bandy’s fine country song, Til I’m Too Old To Die Young, I will climb the highest hill/And watch the rising sun/And pray that I won’t feel the chill/’Til I’m too old to die young. But why, I wonder, is that too much to ask for far too many? [insert song]

Most of the listeners to this letter, I suspect, live in that transnational state called Affluenza, where the products of consumerism burst the confines of closets, rooms and garages and where landfill sites are rapidly becoming gorged with discarded stuff while our waterways and oceans are clogged by plastic, pollution and the putrescent bodies of bloated fish. In Affluenza it’s not much of a boast to say you’re a millionaire: here in Sydney, because of the inflated property market, the median house is worth well over one million dollars. In this century, you want to be a billionaire to set yourself apart from the common masses. As of March 2021, there are only 2755 members of this exclusive club in the world- most from the US, China and India. So, winning multiple millions on lotto won’t come close to letting you through that door. I’m certain, though, that most Quotidians, like you and me, dear listener, would be quite content with a million or two to keep the wolf from our door.

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 107 Progress

Letters Frtom Quotidia Progress

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.

At entry 73, I referred to a cartoon from the sixties by Ron Cobb, entitled Progress, the upper panel shows two cavemen brandishing bones at one another. Then, dividing the upper panel from the lower, is the word Progress. The lower panel shows two men in suits; one has a pistol with which he has just shot his rival dead. This song inserts a few more panels outlining the history of war. Originally entitled Pentagon Progress, I thought, afterwards, this was unfairly restrictive and just adopted the Cobb label (even though the US accounts for 75% of the world’s total expenditure on the military but only 0.04% of the total population of the planet).

In 1972 Cobb composed a cartoon showing road-kill in the Australian outback; lying at the side of the road, among the litter and detritus of road-users, was an aboriginal tribesman and a kangaroo as a road-train sped off, oblivious into the distance.  Almost 50 years later, it still packs a punch. Worth a look, too, is a three-panel depiction of uranium mining in Australia by Fiona Katauskas: panel one- a hole in the ground with the caption, Mine; the second panel an even larger hole in the ground with the caption, Mine; finally, a facility filled with barrels of radioactive waste with the caption, Ours.

Of course, the picture is not one of total gloom: if you haven’t yet checked out Hans Rosling on TED talks, you’re denying yourself a wake-up call about the real state of the world.15 years ago, Rosling demonstrated that medical students in Sweden performed worse than chimpanzees at predicting mortality rates and other indicators of progress. Many, if not most westerners still have mid-twentieth century notions of us and them about the developed world and the third world: this despite the increasing evidence of Asian tourists at our iconic sites.

Half a billion Chinese are middle-class with disposable income that would turn many westerners green with envy. India is close on the heels of its large neighbour, so it is probable that we will have a new, affluent, middle class of one billion plus before too long. Elsewhere in the world, even in sub-Saharan Africa, there is increasing wealth and better health. By the middle of this century, many of the people who just assumed that the largesse was theirs, only, may look longingly off-shore at the greener grass in foreign fields.

While bad news fills our screens, behind the mayhem, there is quiet progress in many areas of social development worldwide. Loathsome regimes (you know who you are!) are no longer able to conceal their barbarities from the ubiquitous smartphones- affordable by even the poor.  Micro-finance schemes liberating women from servitude, pro-active prosecution of predators who have felt safe indulging their pedophilic appetites in poorer countries, and the slow awakening in developed nations among the blue-collar workers that they have been played for saps by their political elites, are all signs of the times that provide a counterweight for the doom and gloom scenarios to which we pay too much attention, perhaps. Or so I hope. I am a hopeless romantic, I guess.

Even as the COVID pandemic rages, I have a belief that we will be able to work through the challenges posed by this virus and all the other challenges of new  pathogens, climate change and global conflict that may follow in the years ahead.  I have, at my desk, a reproduction of the icon at my local church as I write this- which is a tempera and gold leaf on gessoed board measuring 100cm by 70 cm. It depicts St Joseph and his stepson. It stands ignored, for most part, for most of the year, squashed between my printer and my 20.5 inch display monitor.

There is something in the pictorial relationship that catches me, though. How this old guy, depending on a dream, travelled over hard ground to register a birth, and then fled into the land of original slavery to preserve a promise for the ages. Whether you believe it or not, it is a potent archetype of selflessness that cannot be gainsaid. Men, males, of most species, kill the progeny of other males to establish their dominance. Joseph took His mother and Him in- a big deal then- and taught Him an honourable trade. Of course, today, digital disruption would consign Joseph’s humble woodworking skills to the bin and spit him out like so many others. Crucifixion, as a method of mass killing, would be swamped in the plethora of more efficient means of slaughter history has delivered over the past couple of millennia.

So, where is all the good news? Here it is. All around us: In every land, from the circumpolar wastes, to the savannahs, to the rain-forests, to the cities, to the vast plains, to the islands and archipelagos, to the deep-ocean submersibles and to the International Space Station, let us affirm that there is a point to all of our endeavours; that there is an end to the dark travails so many of us endure; that there is a reason for all us to cheer: as Oscar Wilde so wisely wrote, Our ambition should be to rule ourselves, the true kingdom for each one of us; and true progress is to know more, and be more, and to do more… Progress of this sort I find much more appealing than the indicators posited by planners and politicians and econocrats. [insert song]

The former President of the US was a big fan of walls, which is the theme of our next letter. We hear what poets Robert Frost, W H Auden and Edwin Muir have to say about walls, too. We hear of the Berlin Wall, the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem and the Great Wall of China (but I will not mention, here, the Great Firewall of China!) And the material that might actually make a wall impregnable- that, too, will be revealed. So, bring along your  colourful spray-cans and let’s visit the walls of Quotidia and spray uplifting slogans, and Banksy-like affirmations which render ordinary people going about their ordinary, but very valuable, unique lives.

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 106 I Wonder How It Got So Far?

Letters From Quotidia I Wonder How It Got So Far?

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia – a podcast by Quentin Bega for lovers of music, poetry, and the Crack- that most Irish of nouns which may encompass, news, gossip, fun, entertainment, and enjoyable conversation. Quotidia is that space, that place, where ordinary people lead ordinary lives. But where, from time to time, they encounter the extraordinary.

The years 1971 and 1972 loom large in my recollection: I got married; travelled overseas on my first independent holiday (our honeymoon in Yugoslavia as it was at that time and Venice); moved into our first home; fathered my first child; got my first degree (I never bothered completing another); and moved to Australia to start my first job. A lot of firsts. In these years, too, I first started to write songs about what was going on around me rather than anodyne love ditties. Some of these early songs have been lost forever in the chaos of living. Others, such as this one, survived long enough to be transferred to cassette tape and, later, to zeros and ones in the digital domain.

The transience and randomness of life and death swirled around us: I missed, by moments, being blown up in a pub near the city centre, an acquaintance was shot and killed by gunmen unknown. After the honeymoon we found part of a house for rent in West Belfast off the Whiterock Road in Beechview Park which looked across a cinder pitch to the walls of the city cemetery on which was sprayed, in white paint, the graffito, Is there a life before death? We lived there from late July 1971 until late August 1972. On the 9th of August, 1971, gunfire erupted in the area as British Army Saracens whined through the streets lifting republican suspects for internment. I watched later from our bedroom window as two men placed barrels of petrol on the Whiterock Road, detonating them as a patrol passed shortly afterwards.

My pregnant wife, clambering over barricades to get to work at the Belfast Corporation Electricity Department and then back trying to get up the Falls Road, was in the grocery store at the corner of the lane leading to our street when she was unceremoniously pushed to the floor by a woman next to her: before she could remonstrate a couple of rubber bullets came through the door and ricocheted around the shop, smashing displays and causing panic and anger. Over 55,000 of these were fired by British forces before they were phased out with the introduction of plastic bullets in 1975. One of the rubber bullets from the shop was given to my wife as a souvenir and was displayed for a time in our various homes over the years, but it disappeared, too, along with a lot of other stuff, in the chaos of living.

I, protective husband that I was-remonstrated with the local women that night, that I would not let her go out on bin-lid duty- this was the early warning technology of the savvy citizens to warn the local IRA brigade of British Army patrols, and she, returning to the corner shop the next day, met with a wall of silence as she was motioned silently to the counter to buy her bread and milk and sugar. Clearly, pregnancy was not a sufficient excuse in that area at that time. The conflict deepened as bombings and shootings took their toll- in lives and quality of life.

The dirty war kicked into gear in earnest as Brigadier Frank Kitson’s counter-insurgency tactics honed against the Mau Mau in Kenya was introduced to streets of the United Kingdom (although not on the island of Britain, itself). Fifteen civilians, including four women, were killed in McGurk’s Pub in North Queen Street by loyalist bombers whose path before and after was facilitated by members of the shadowy Military Reaction Force of the British Army. Eight weeks later, British Paratroopers shot dead 13 civilians in Derry on Bloody Sunday prompting a rush on IRA recruiters. Republicans hit back by burning the British embassy in Dublin three days later, bombing Aldershot Barracks in Britain which killed seven and exploding a bomb in Lower Donegall Street, Belfast, killing seven, also.

As violence spiralled out of control, Edward Heath, British Prime Minister, and widely rumoured in republican Belfast to have interrupted sailing on his yacht, Morning Cloud, pulled the pin, prorogued the parliament at Stormont and introduced direct rule, ending all hope of any semblance of democracy in Northern Ireland for over a generation. There were false dawns with truces and secret talks but the killing went on, regardless.  One day, while I was returning records to the Belfast Central Library, 22 bombs went off in the space of an hour and a quarter killing nine outright and seriously injuring 130 more. That summer the UDA in ranked and hooded thousands marched along Royal Avenue through the centre of Belfast as I watched in trepidation.

I rang my father in Cushendall and arranged to spend a few days in Cushendall before leaving for Heathrow airport for a flight to Sydney. He came and collected my wife, my three-month old daughter and me from Beechview Park on Saturday, August 26, as gunfire rang out in the distance. I can see the headlines now, I thought sardonically, young family tragically killed a week before they were to start their new life in Australia. Don’t even joke about! I immediately admonished myself. As Yeats so truly put it, Out of Ireland have we come./Great hatred, little room,/Maimed us at the start.

I wrote the song featured here at the time of the events outlined. Like the song from the previous post, it is much longer than the three-to-four-minute items that I usually write but I have resisted the urge to edit it in the years since arguing to myself that it is an artefact from those times, like that rubber bullet that ricocheted around the shop my wife was in. And, in the decades since, confronted by the reality of innocents routinely brutalised in the name of one ideology or another, I can only echo the tag line of the song:I wonder how they got so far at all…[insert song]

The next letter is about progress. We meet again Ron Cobb, cartoonist, then Hans Rosling demonstrates that chinpanzees out-perform Swedish students in current affairs. We learn that the glass is half-full and, finally, Oscar Wilde offers wise words about the nature of progress.

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 105 The Morrigan

Letters From Quotidia Episode 105 The Morrigan

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.

Mordor, in J R R Tolkein’s great Lord of the Rings trilogy, is the place of horror. Tolkein, as a philologist, knew that Mor probably derives from an Indo-European root connoting terror and monstrousness. The Morrigan is the phantom queen of Irish mythology- a war goddess who takes on the appearance of a crow over battlefields. Wikipedia notes that, in one version of Cúchulainn’s death-tale, as Cúchulainn rides to meet his enemies, he encounters the Morrígan as a hag washing his bloody armour in a ford, an omen of his death. Later in the story, mortally wounded, Cúchulainn ties himself to a standing stone with his own entrails so he can die upright, and it is only when a crow lands on his shoulder that his enemies believe he is dead.

Communal strife had been building throughout 1969 in Northern Ireland and in August of that year, it became the burning wasteland beloved of war gods and goddesses as riots swept Belfast and Derry and houses went up in flames displacing those whose misfortune it was to live on sectarian interfaces. Among the more problematical things I have done in my lifetime was agreeing to drive, in late August of 1969, a car full of people I did not know but who were termed as refugees from North Queen Street, Belfast, to County Donegal, where there was an Irish Army camp at a place called Finner.

I had been approached by a person who supplied snack machines for the students’ union and he seemed a regular guy; besides, he told me he would be making the humanitarian journey as well. I drove over country backroads, scared out of my wits that I would be stopped by the B-Specials, a Protestant militia still in force. After getting lost a couple of times, I left off a woman and two children at the army camp but, to my surprise, not all the passengers agreed to accept the hospitality of the Irish Army. There were two twenty-something year-old men who decided they were not going to stay in Donegal but would return with me to Belfast.

On the way back, the rust-heap, which was the car I had driven for so long, broke down on the M2 on the way back into Belfast.  The naïve student, a.k.a.me, ran to the nearest phone-box and asked for help. Now, I didn’t know that the motorway phones were linked to police stations, did I? When I heard a voice declaring, Moira police, how can I help? I dropped the phone and started to gulp like a fish out of water- oh, I was, I was!  While I was floundering on the shoulder of the motorway who should turn up, but the vending machine salesman who told me I was a stupid, useless so and so. In no time he had tied a rope to our stricken vehicle and towed it to an off-ramp and into one of the outer suburbs of Belfast where it was abandoned on a side-street. He later drove me to the city centre and told me he never wanted to see me again, driving off with the two young men who hadn’t exchanged more than a word or two with me the whole trip.

At the beginning of the academic year 1969-1970, I rented a bedsit near Carlisle Circus in Belfast and quickly settled into a diet of beer and potato crisps. My cousin, Elizabeth, who was working in the city, had a flat up a flight of stairs from me and, occasionally, would arrange to feed me something more substantial. A journalist with The Belfast Telegraph occupied the flat across the landing from me and books were piled everywhere, overflowing tables, chairs and bookcases. He drank a lot, too, and we often talked about the scuttlebutt swirling around the streets: were black taxis containing British assassination duos real or just part of the general paranoia? And, just before I left for a visit home at Christmas that year, were the IRA really going to split in two, with a more militant faction gearing up to escalate the conflict? 

The city that I had been visiting for several years as a teen because it was vibrant, music-filled and exciting became a shadowed place of menace where a once open and inclusive nightlife shrivelled into closed, claustrophobic sectarian venues controlled by paramilitary groups. Following my restricted diet, I became less and less well and my girlfriend, now wife, prevailed upon me to seek medical advice. I was admitted to the Mater Hospital on the Crumlin Road in July of 1970. My reception was frosty, to say the least. I had bulging protuberances on my neck which were assumed to be evidence of mononucleosis by the Nuns of the hospital. When they were told, that, far from being afflicted by the “kissing disease”(and serves him right! I overheard a nun opine) no, far from that, I was diagnosed, after a biopsy, as an innocent victim of sarcoidosis, and wouldn’t you know, their demeanour towards me warmed remarkably.

During that week and a bit in hospital I was visited by friends and family. Among my visitors were a couple of musos from the College, final year students, who had followed the trail laid down by the Beatles by gigging in Hamburg, too. We played a few riffs and shared a few laughs. It was in that hospital ward that I started to write the song that would later be entitled, The Morrigan. This is one of my earliest apocalyptic songs. (Yes, there have been a few.) And this reminds me of an exchange from Hamlet, Act II, scene 2: where the eponymous prince is speaking to his friends from childhood, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who are, in fact, plotting with the king to get rid of the prince. Hamlet: What news? Rosencrantz: None, my lord, but that the world’s grown honest. Hamlet: Then is doomsday near.[insert song]

The next letter details a bunch of firsts: first marriage (although my wife keeps reminding me that I am still on probation); first trip overseas as an independent person; first and as it turns out, last, degree, first child and first job. There was also a close encounter with a rubber bullet. We seem to remember our firsts, don’t we? 

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 26

Letters From Quotidia Postcards Edition 26

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, the Postcards edition, number 26, 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 Snowy River Men: this is one of the finest songs ever written about the Great War and Australia’s involvement in it from the point of view of the soldiers actually doing the fighting. Kevin Baker, the writer of this fine song was a long-time friend of mine. Sadly, Kevin passed away in March of this year. I first met Kevin in 1973 or 1974- I at Warrawong High School. We played music together on Friday nights where Kevin played a fine mouth organ, flute or piccolo (accompanied by a goblet or three of wine…) We also played in various groups until I left Wollongong to return to Northern Ireland at the end of 1978. Kevin joined me there in 1981 and we shared a memorable week cruising on Lough Erne. When I returned to Australia in 1988, I re-established contact with Kevin in Wollongong where he told me of his song- collecting in the Snowy Mountain area and the letter written to Mrs Allen by Hal Archer. In the early 1990s he toured up the east coast of Australia to play at folk venues and I met him again in Ayr, N. Queensland when he was passing through to Townsville and Cairns. We met several more times in the late 1990s and early ‘noughties at festivals such as Gulgong, a 19th-century gold rush town in the Central Tablelands and folk clubs, such as the temperance venue in the western Sydney suburb of Toongabbie (we had a drink afterwards!) Vale Kevin. [insert song]

Marching Home From That War: Much is made of statements such as, the first casualty of war is the truth which some claim dates back to the ancient Athenian playwright Aeschylus – a proud veteran of Marathon and Salamis –in the fifth century BC, or the metaphor the fog of war which some have attributed to the 19th Century Prussian general and military theorist, Carl von Clausewitz. So, when I began to write a song about my great-uncle, John Joseph Mitchell, who was killed in action at Passchendaele on the 18th of September, 1917, I came to realise the sad truth of these aphorisms. JJ was one of more than 62,000 Australian men killed in that awful conflict- and those numbers from population of less than five million people! Is it any wonder that there are memorials in just about every Aussie city, suburb, town, and hamlet to mark the sacrifice?  I struggled to find a way to write the song. And then the idea came: why not have John Joseph Mitchell, my great uncle narrate a portion of his life, after a brief mention of his birth in Belfast, from his meeting with his wife, Hannah in 1903 in Liverpool to his death next to a captured German blockhouse near Hell Fire Corner and Polygon Wood in Belgium in 1917? [insert song]

Three Rivers Hotel was written by Stan Coster. We, the band Banter, have performed the song for twenty-five years. Stan is another one of those larger than life Aussies that this land seems to produce in prodigious numbers. His “Three Rivers Hotel”, which tells the story of building a train line into a remote nickel mine, from Townsville was based on his own life experiences and brought to popular attention through performances and recordings by Slim Dusty and other artists.[insert song]

The Old House had always brought to my mind the ruins of Irish cottages you can find scattered throughout the island, redolent of failed lives and suffused with emigrant longing. And then I started to research. What did I find? Not what I expected! I envisioned a humble schoolmaster, perhaps, setting down these lines to an old half-remembered Irish air as he dwelt on his impoverished beginnings. The truth was diametrically opposed to my former imaginings! The writer of the song was a scion of an ancient Irish family: Lieutenant-Colonel Sir William Frederick Travers O’Connor  (30 July 1870 – 14 December 1943) was an Irish diplomat and officer in the British and British Indian armies. He is remembered for his travels in Asia, cartography, study and publication of local cultures and language, his actions on the Younghusband expedition to Tibet, Royal Geographic Society council member,  member of the Royal Automobile Club and for his work negotiating and signing the Nepal–Britain Treaty of 1923. O’Connor was born in 1870, Longford, Ireland, son of land agent Matthew Weld O’Connor, and Harriet Georgina, daughter of Anthony O’Reilly, of Baltrasna, County Meath.(source,Wikipedia) O’Connor noted in his book, Things Mortal, that the famous Irish tenor, John McCormack, sang The Old House at The Royal Albert Hall in London on November 27, 1938. He was an exemplar of the British Imperial administrative elite- resourceful, multi-talented, showered with medals and widely travelled. After a long, distinguished military career, ending in 1925, he travelled to the Americas where, in 1931 he was reported as inviting five men, with deep pockets, to accompany him on a tiger hunt to India for an eye-watering sum of money! Whether this transpired or not is problematical because two days later a bankruptcy petition was filed against him. Will I sing the song, anyway? Well, yes, of course I will! I use an orchestral ¾ time Band-in-a-Box setting and, as this is such a short song, I play mandolin over a penultimate instrumental verse. The song has no chorus, just three verses, so I follow some other artists in rising a semitone in the final verse. [insert song]

Lockdown versions of Whiskey in the Jar and Spancil Hill feature as the first songs of Postcard 27. Song three is an Australian shearing song, One of the Has-beens, I first heard from the singing of Kevin Baker in the 1970s.The final song, The Old Bog Road, is usually derided as sentimental slush by woke folk but has more going for it than a superficial glance would have you believe. Listen in, and decide for yourselves, next time.

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 104 Rosa

Letters From Quotidia Episode 104 Rosa

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 Reinhard Heydrich and Rudolf Hoess have in common aside from being among the most loathsome exemplars and promoters of the ‘final solution”; that Nazi euphemism for the genocidal mass murder of at least six million Jews between 1933, when Dachau concentration camp opens, and 1945, when the Allied and Soviet Forces opened the gates of Hell and liberated the survivors of the death camps scattered across the 1000-year Reich? This remains is one of the darkest events in the history of the world although in a post-truth world many assert that no such thing happened.  Heydrich was the architect of the final solution and Hoess was the commandant of Auschwitz.

Both cut their teeth, so to speak, as members of the Freikorps- a paramilitary organisation, active in the wake of the first world war, in anti-democratic and anti-socialist agitation and assassination. Much has been written about this group and their activities but I came across a rather unusual approach to the subject matter when I read a review by Paul Robinson, a professor of history at Stanford University, of a book entitled, MALE FANTASIES Volume One: Women, Floods, Bodies, History. By Klaus Theweleit published in West Germany in 1977, which had something to say about the psychopathology of men drawn to the Freikorps.

Robinson’s review, published in The New York Times, June 21, 1987, entitled, The Women They Fear states, Klaus Theweleit’s distinctive contribution is to examine the fantasies of the Freikorps soldiers, under the assumption that their intellectual and emotional predilections would explain their behavior. He does so primarily through a close reading of the autobiographies and novels of a select group of Freikorps members… In particular, he draws our attention to the ideas they entertained about women and sex… His central contention is that the Freikorps soldiers were afraid of women. Indeed, not just afraid, they were deeply hostile to them, and their ultimate goal was to murder them. Women, in their view, came in only two varieties: Red and White. The White woman was the nurse, the mother, the sister. She was distinguished above all else by her sexlessness. The Red woman, on the other hand, was a whore and a Communist. She was a kind of distillation of sexuality, threatening to engulf the male in a whirlpool of bodily and emotional ecstasy…the Republic had to be destroyed because it empowered the lascivious Red woman, while it failed to protect the White woman’s sexual purity. While not entirely convinced by Theweleit’s thesis, Robinson concludes, that in the end he asks us to believe that their hatred of women and fear of sexuality were merely an exaggerated version of what all men feel, or have felt for the past two centuries. And, furthermore, he may have captured a glimpse of our souls.  Good Lord, I hope not mine! What about yours?

And what about Rosa?Today, Rosa Luxemburg seems a quaint fictional character. But she was real; murdered in Berlin on 15 January 1919 by members of the Freikorps. With Karl Liebknecht, co-founder with her of the Spartacist League, which was the forerunner of the Communist Party of Germany, Rosa Luxemburg was captured by the Rifle Division of the Cavalry Guards of the Freikorps. Its commander and deputy questioned them under torture and then gave the order to execute them. Luxemburg was knocked down with a rifle butt by a soldier, then shot in the head. Her body was flung into Berlin’s Landwehr Canal. In the nearby Tiergarten, Liebknecht was shot and his body, without a name, brought to a morgue.

While not sharing her revolutionary political beliefs, I like Rosa for having written, Freedom is always the freedom of dissenters. The dogmatists of the GDR, though, omitted this bit of her writings when crafting their working model of that grim state. But back to the murders of Rosa and Carl: notice that the male body, although not identified by name, was brought to the morgue while the female body was thrown into the canal without further ado: there may be something in Theweleit’s thesis, after all. I am in a dark section of the letter and I pray for something made from light to help me conclude this distressing missive.

Sometimes, prayers are answered: In 1932 an American housewife and florist, Mary Elizabeth Frye, was moved by the plight of a young Jewish girl, Margaret Swartzkopf, who was warned not to return to Germany to see her dying mother because of the anti-Semitism of the time. Frye wrote these lines to console the weeping girl who, upon the death of her mother, lamented that she could not stand at the graveside and shed a tear. It was only in the late 1990s, a lifetime later, that Frye’s authorship of the following poem was established: Do not stand at my grave and weep,/I am not there; I do not sleep./I am a thousand winds that blow,/I am the diamond glints on snow,/I am the sun on ripened grain,/I am the gentle autumn rain./When you awaken in the morning’s hush/I am the swift uplifting rush/Of quiet birds in circling flight./I am the soft star-shine at night./Do not stand at my grave and cry,/I am not there; I did not die. Where would we be without our poets; without our poetry? I know my soul would shrivel up and blow away. How, I wonder, do you maintain your core, your soul or whatever term you use to define your quintessential self? [insert song]

Though not a philologist, the narrator links Tolkien’s kingdom of doom, Mordor, and the Celtic Goddess of War, the Morrigan, through an Indo-European root Mor- connoting terror and monstrousness. Letter 105 also traces his subsistence on beer, crisps and ciggies and the role played by women who had pity on him and probably saved him from the worst excesses of his hapless life as a student in a Belfast bedsit.

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 103 Manolito

Letters From Quotidia Episode 103 Manolito

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.

Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua festered in the heat of Central America during the 70s and 80s. Belize was insulated from the conflicts endemic to the region by the British presence and Panama, as a strategic asset of the US, thanks to its canal, also escaped the worst of the killings increasingly creating headlines in international newspapers.  Costa Rica was a relatively peaceful anomaly; without a standing army and possessing robust democratic institutions, it was spared the horrors of civil conflict and destabilisation by shadowy American forces.

Indeed, because of the moral authority bestowed by a country that puts public welfare in the place of military spending, its President was able to address the US congress in in 1987 in these terms, I belong to a small country, that was not afraid to abolish its army in order to increase its strength. In my homeland you will not find a single tank, a single artillery piece, a single warship or a single military helicopter…. Today we threaten no one, neither our own people nor our neighbours. Such threats are absent not because we lack tanks but because there are few of us who are hungry, illiterate or unemployed. He was awarded the Nobel Peace prize two months after this address.

This, was a slap in the face to Ronald Reagan, who had attempted to strong-arm Costa Rica into re-militarising and joining in the fight with the right-wing Contras, which he continued to fund covertly in the face of congressional blocks in 1985 to further financial assistance, against the legitimate Sandinista government of Nicaragua. To all who glorify armed conflict as the art of war, as a righteous response to ideological threats, I would refer them to Denise Levertov’s poem Misnomer, which refutes this appellation, They speak of the art of war,/ but the arts/ draw their light from the soul’s well,/ and warfare/ dries up the soul and draws its power/ from a dark and burning wasteland.

The darkness, to this day, blankets much of Central America, and the burning wasteland that is the lived experience of millions as we speak, is a screaming indictment of the corruption and violence which drives desperate people to seek refuge across the Rio Grande. As Jude Webber writes in his FT review dated April 6, 2016, of A History of Violence: Living and Dying in Central America by Oscar Martinez, every day, in an endless stream, more than 1,000 people flee Guatemala, El Salvador and Hondurasstaking everything on a perilous journey north to escape a peacetime now proving more deadly than civil wars that ended two decades ago. The book is a series of extended essays based on his reporting for El Faro, an award-winning Salvadoran online newspaper, and the unflinching cameos it paints offer a chilling portrait of corruption, unimaginable brutality and impunity.

The cameos include heart-wrenching stories of sex slavery and merciless retribution when victims who sought help from officials were handed back to the gangs. And this testament to the bravery of an individual who cannot look away, For Israel Ticas, El Salvador’s only forensic investigator, the quest to dig murder victims out of a well turns into an 805-day nightmare. He has dived into its murky depths and discovers bones and body parts, corroborating testimonies from two turncoat gang members that at least four (but probably many more) victims they had, in gang slang, “taken for a walk”, had been thrown in. It is a race against time: not only must he get the bodies out before rains flood his tunnel, he also needs to do so before the maximum pre-trial detention is up for 43 gang members arrested in connection with the four known bodies. The government lends digging equipment, but swiftly takes it back. The excavation is doomed.

At the same time, Donald Trump, front-runner for the Republican Party in the US, promises to expel 11 million undocumented migrants and then build a wall to keep them out. I can’t believe we’re living in the 21st Century! Still didn’t believe it  when Trump leap-frogged Clinton into the Oval Office, and wonder, now that Biden is in office, whether the whole thing was just a bad dream. But, unless it was just a glitch in the galactic simulation program that Elon Musk asserts we are all a pre-determined part of, run by extraterrestrial super-beings, then I am forced to realise that these things actually happened and continue to chew at and erode the sinews and foundations of liberal democracy.

The song, Manolito, emerges from the shock I experienced at witnessing, on the TV news, in late June of 1979, the brutal slaying of American journalist Bill Stewart. I watched as he was made to lie down on the roadway; then a member of Nicaraguan dictator, Anastasio Somoza’s, National Guard kicked him in the side and shot him in the head killing him instantly. The outrage following this atrocity, may seem strange today for those who witness the deaths of journalists as a daily, dismal reality. But the murder of Bill Stewart  led to the fall of the corrupt regime and Somoza’s flight to Paraguay after, of course, he had looted the Guatemalan treasury.

He didn’t have long to savour his ill-gotten fortune, though. There, a Sandinista commando squad assassinated him. The song, written during July, 1979, shows that burning wasteland from the point of view of a young wife speaking to her husband who is visiting his village home for a short while before resuming the guerrilla campaign. Meanwhile, that burning wasteland continues to flare and smoulder more than forty years after this song was written.[insert song] 

Letter 104 from Quotidia takes us back to the first half of the twentieth century where, again on show, are some of the best and worst examples of our species. We also listen to lines of poetry by Elizabeth Fry that offer solace to the grief-stricken.

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 102 Roscoe

Letters From Quotidia Episode 102 Roscoe

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 would you do with the ring of Gyges? The story goes that Gyges was in service to King Caduales of Lydia as a shepherd when he discovered a ring in a cave after an earthquake uncovered its entrance. The ring conferred invisibility on the wearer so he made his way to the palace where, with the aid of the magical ring, he seduced the queen and murdered the king thereby securing both throne and queen.

Wikipedia takes up the story, In Plato’s The Republic, the tale of the ring of Gyges is described by the character of Glaucon who is the brother of Plato. Glaucon asks whether any man can be so virtuous that he could resist the temptation of being able to perform any act without being known or discovered. Glaucon suggests that morality is only a social construction, the source of which is the desire to maintain one’s reputation for virtue and justice. Hence, if that sanction were removed, one’s moral character would evaporate…. If you could imagine any one obtaining this power of becoming invisible, and never doing any wrong or touching what was another’s, he would be thought by the lookers-on to be a most wretched idiot.

The ring of Gyges is the basis for The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells. Rings of power are also the subject of Wagner’s Ring cycle and Tolkein’s, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Of course, the rings symbolise absolute power, and, as Lord Acton so famously observed, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. With the corruption attendant on power comes injustice. Injustice is much easier to apprehend than justice, just as evil is more tangible to us than goodness; although, paradoxically perhaps, the most satisfactory outcomes in fact and fiction are when good triumphs over evil.

And, to return to Plato’s Republic, where Glaucon gave the cynical and widespread view that the tendency to evil when one can act with impunity is universal- what did Socrates have to say on the matter? He argued that one who used the ring unjustly was slave to his appetites whereas the just man who refused to use the ring was rationally in control of himself and therefore, happy. But away from the rarefied atmosphere of philosophical speculation, I’m pretty sure the framers of the constitution of the US got it right with the separation of powers. The checks and balances of democratic systems of governance are much preferable to any of the alternatives, however efficient they may, supposedly, be.

I read David Yallop’s, The Day the Laughter Stopped back in 1978 and   I was incensed enough by the fate of the silent-film era comedian, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, to write an atypically lengthy song. Atypical, also, in that its content was based on a close reading of another text. Usually my inspiration comes from something fleeting or ephemeral: was it George Eliot who could concoct a complicated narrative from just a glimpse through a doorway of a mundane domestic scene?  At any rate, not only did I write a six-minute plus song but I gave headings to each of the verses utilising Roman numerals: I THE SETTING, II THE PARTY, III THE TELEGRAM, IV DEATH AND THE DOCTORS, V THE POWER GRAB, VI THE TRIALS, VII THE ACQUITTAL AND REACTION OF THE JACKALS, VIII ROSCOE’S FIGHTBACK AND IRONIES OF THE END.

What really got to me about the Arbuckle story, was that such an egregious instance of injustice took place in the land of the free where the rule of law and separation of powers were supposed to guarantee the liberty of the citizen. Yes, I was rather naïve and idealistic way back then. Now I just weep as I view, and read about, the manifold injustices of the world even as I am being assured that things are getting better all the time.

Oh, go on! Tell me the parable of the starfish- you know, where a man asks a child, who is on a beach about to throw back into the sea one starfish even though the beach is covered with thousands, what difference will it make? The child answers that it will make a difference to this one. But what if the child is throwing a crown-of-thorns starfish back onto the Great Barrier Reef? Still, the urge to do something active seems a better response than that of passivity. And, again, I look to the poets to bring into clear focus the issue about which so much has been written, discussed and fought over.

Langston Hughes speaks for all of the oppressed when he says, That Justice is a blind goddess/Is a thing to which we black are wise:/Her bandage hides two festering sores/That once perhaps were eyes. Israeli poet Yehudi Amichai observes, Out of three or four in the room/One is always standing at the window/ Forced to see the injustice amongst the thorns,/The fires on the hills. Thank God for the minority who stand at the window and make an effort to correct injustices: who see, and act.[insert song]

Some places on earth seem cursed: whether by history, or geography, or climate or any combination of these. Central America would be a contender for this title when one considers the past 50 years. Of course, take just about any country or region on earth and look through an historical lens and you will see plenty of blood and misery: enough to sate the most ghoulish appetite.  One gives thanks, though, that even in the most benighted of regions, areas of calm and peace prevail. In Central America, Costa Rica is such a haven. Its president, Oscar Arias Sánchez, was able to stand up to the bellicose bellowings of the Reagan administration and maintain his country’s peaceful disposition. Of course, for every angel there seems to be a demon somewhere in the mix. And the reprehensible counterpart to Sanchez was one, Anastasio Somoza. The next letter pays tribute to the brave writers and journalists who inhabit Central America and also outlines the inspiration for the song at its end, Manolito.

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 101 Mr Brown

Letters From Quotidia Episode 101 Mr Brown

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia – a podcast by Quentin Bega for lovers of music, poetry, and the Crack- that most Irish of nouns which may encompass, news, gossip, fun, entertainment, and enjoyable conversation. Quotidia is that space, that place, where ordinary people lead ordinary lives. But where, from time to time, they encounter the extraordinary.

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose/ by any other name would smell as sweet, Romeo famously declaimed. What’s in a name, Romeo? Quite a lot, actually. He was not the sharpest tool in the shed even if he was, arguably, Verona’s most eligible bachelor. Suppose, taking a leaf out of Romeo’s book, you decided that a rose was to be called a stench. A dozen stenches just for you, darling! Does not sound as sweet, and I dare say, the connotative transfer would attenuate somewhat the perfume perceived by the recipient of your well-meaning romantic gesture.

Consider the flipside of this, where honourable words cloak dishonourable intentions as in Shakespeare’s great tragedy, Othello, where Iago draws the naïve hero down into his devilish trap by pretending to withhold, for noble motive, the name of the person rumoured as having seduced Othello’s wife, saying, Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,/Is the immediate jewel of their souls./Who steals my purse steals trash; ’tis something, nothing; /’Twas mine, ’tis his, and has been slave to thousands;/But he that filches from me my good name/Robs me of that which not enriches him,/And makes me poor indeed.

In The Crucible, Arthur Miller’s play about the Salem witchcraft trials of 1690 as a commentary on the poison of McCarthyism in 1950s America, John Proctor, the play’s flawed protagonist cries, Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! Because I lie and sign myself to lies! Because I am not worth the dust on the feet of them you have hanged! How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul; leave me my name! The magistrates, who had hanged a dozen innocent people on the word of hysterical girls, were desperate to get his confession because of his stature in the community and, thinking that they had succeeded, bring him the paper to sign so that they might display it for all to see on the church door. But Proctor, ultimately, refuses to blacken the names of the others by denouncing them as witches and, with them, is led to his death.

Naming rituals have been important in all cultures and at all times. Christians confer names at baptism, and some at Confirmation. Hindus, Jews and Muslims all name their children within days or weeks of birth. Many non-believers, too, have secular naming ceremonies. If you’re into secret names, you may wish to join a Wiccan coven where you will receive your Craft-name to be used only among others of your faith during ceremonies performed away from public gaze. Other secret names are to be found in a variety of sub-cultures; and let us not forget lovers who would be discomfited if their pet-names of, say, Snugglie-poos and Cuddle-cakes were widely known.

Not only people, but place-names are causes of dissension: in the province of my birth- Ulster- it is still possible to witness apoplectic arguments over the proper name of the city on the River Foyle- is it Derry or Londonderry? Or Stroke City as local radio presenter, Gerry Anderson dubbed it, as wry acknowledgement of the clunky but widespread usage Derry/Londonderry as a compromise solution to the conundrum. Post-colonial renaming of African and Asian countries and cities has proceeded apace since the mid-twentieth century: are you enjoying a cup of Ceylon tea from Sri Lanka, perhaps as an accompaniment to your tasty Peking duck, a delicacy prepared in Beijing since the imperial era- or do you like something stronger -Bombay Gin, mmm? Even at a parochial level, tempests rage in innumerable tea-cups over the naming or proposed renaming of streets and parks.

And the imbroglio extends to the metaphysical: naming the Deity has been a no-no for pious Jews from Biblical times who refuse to pronounce the ineffable name of God or G-d, as they prefer to put it. It is rendered as the four consonants YHWH or YHVH (known as the tetragrammaton) which transliterates to Yahweh or Jehovah. It is also unwise to bandy about the name of the Adversary or Devil: the harmless-seeming idiom, speak of the devil! when someone you have just been talking about puts in an unexpected appearance derives from an earlier saying, speak of the devil and he doth appear.

But to things more heavenly now: lines of poetry: Yesterday, I lay awake in the palm of the night./A soft rain stole in, unhelped by any breeze,/And when I saw the silver glaze on the windows,/I started with A, So begins The Names, a poem by American laureate Billy Collins and he proceeds through the alphabet: it wasn’t until he reached X that I twigged that this was a special poem: (Let X stand, if it can, for the ones unfound). The last line, so many names, there is barely room on the walls of the heart, underscores the sorrow: a naming of some of those lost on 9/11. So, what’s in a name, Romeo? Quite a lot, actually. [insert song]

Do you ever dream of power? We all did as children when we wished fervently for…whatever, and were just a little disappointed when the wished for pony or fire-engine did not materialise. Every wished that playground bully dead? Or merely struck down with some loathsome malady, if your thoughts pulled up short of homicide? And now, even in the years of your altruistic maturity, do you not wish for a Lotto win to enable you to furnish your nearest and dearest with material security? The next symposium in Quotidia examines these sage matters. For those for whom philosophy is a tetrasyllabic swear word, fear not, because we will also discuss one of the great comedians of the early cinema- Fatty Arbuckle. The poetry is supplied by Langston Hughes, one of my go-to guys for dollops of wisdom. And, confession time: the narrator cynically subverts the parable of the child throwing one of the starfish stranded on the beach back into the ocean. I’m sure you all know it from homilies and the like.

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.