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.

Letters From Quotidia Episode 109 I Rest My Case

Letters From Quotidia Episode 109 I Rest My Case

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.

We have such a lot to put up with in the state of Affluenza: I’m suffering from compassion fatigue: there’s always someone after my charity dollar…Paying off the mortgage is taking all my time and energy; so much so that I can’t enjoy my harbour view…I feel so guilty: I know! I’ll dress in black, like Johnny Cash did, until there is equality and harmony and world peace… Keeping up with the Joneses is such tiring business because just when you get up to where they are, lo and behold, another set of Joneses pops up to spoil your feeling of having arrived.

The phrase has been with us for over one hundred years and is becoming increasingly archaic; predicated, as it was, on a much lesser gap in wealth between socio-economic groups. Now, the gap between wealth and the rest is staggering. And even within the top 1%- that cliché for true wealth, there is a divide between the millionaires who are becoming a dime a dozen, so to speak, and the rarefied planet of the jet-setting billionaires. In the state of Affluenza, you don’t want to be alone, in a position of vulnerability, and subject to illness, accident or attack, because- chances are- you will become just another statistic in the case-files of the bystander effect.

Wikipedia defines this as a social psychological phenomenon that refers to cases in which individuals do not offer any means of help to a victim when other people are present. The probability of help is inversely related to the number of bystanders. In other words, the greater the number of bystanders, the less likely it is that any one of them will help. Now, this phenomenon pre-dates Affluenza as the parable of The Good Samaritan attests but it is clearly amplified in affluent, urban societies. Here are a few: Kitty Genovese, a young woman stabbed, raped and killed brutally over a period of half an hour outside her apartment building in Queens, NYC in 1964, within the hearing of a dozen people, not one of whom lifted a hand to help or even a phone for police assistance, which would have saved her life. In 2011 two-year old Wang Yue was run over twice, by drivers, in the Chinese city of Foshan, neither of whom stopped. At least 18 bystanders walked past without aiding the stricken infant. Only an elderly rubbish scavenger, Chen Xianmei, stopped to help the dying child. How many of the plutocracy are worth as much, in essence, as this fine woman.

But what does inaction do to those who witness human distress without active compassion? And how many of us can say we have always acted honourably when confronted with similar situations? There is a photograph that I often used in the last twenty years of my teaching career to illustrate the importance of context and framing in the making of meaning. It is a photograph taken in 1993 by photo-journalist Kevin Carter of an African scene. I would show, at first, a cropped shot of a vulture on the arid plain gazing intently at something just out of frame and ask for a response- which was usually fairly tepid. Then, I would reveal the uncropped shot where we see in the foreground a severely emaciated child crawling on the ground. Now, it is clear why the vulture is gazing so intently. The response is always one of shock. As I was shocked today, when I learned a fuller version of the story:

Carter waited, in vain, for 20 minutes for the vulture to spread its wings- which he thought would make the better shot. All the while the child was whimpering and panting in distress. Carter took the shot, shoo-ed the vulture away and then walked off, leaving the child, claiming he didn’t want to get involved. He won the Pulitzer Prize the following year and he took his own life by carbon monoxide poisoning. I feel desperately sorry for his loved ones, for him, too, and I don’t presume to know if there was a causal link between the circumstances of the photograph and his final act, but I would not be surprised to learn that it was a factor.

Here in Australia, refugees have self-immolated and self-harmed in protest over the conditions at their off-shore detention centres. Both of the major parties here in Australia are welded to policies that guarantee cruelty to these people will persist as I, and twenty-five million fellow citizens look on. The Prime Minister, like so many of his colleagues, claim to be active Christians, so I wonder how foreign aid will fare in the next budget-especially COVID vaccines for the third world?  In a thought- experiment, I have the cabinet study, in detail, Matthew 25: 31-45.

You know, the one where humanity is compared to the shepherd separating the sheep from the goats on the day of judgement: I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ Those on the right side, pass this test and go to heaven. As for the others…hmm. And I would have those Cabinet Christians all recite The Confiteor, that old penitential prayer which includes these words,

I confess to almighty God, and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have greatly sinned, in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and what I have failed to do, through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault. Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. Now, of course, even in a thought-experiment, I would allow atheists to affirm their willingness to do what is right, and non-Christians to recite penitential prayers from  their own traditions.[insert song]

Our next letter finds the narrator paying homage to Paul McCartney, T. S. Eliot, Carol Ann Duffy, Dannie Abse , Ruth Fainlight, Roger McGough and Peter Porter. At age 16 I played the Sgt Pepper’s album over and over  until I knew by heart the words of all the songs including the one I used as the inspiration for the next song, composed 47 years after the purchase of that seminal record.

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 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.