Letters From Quotidia Episode 190 Peace is the Path, From Clare to Here

Quentin Bega
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Letters From Quotidia Episode 190 Peace is the Path, From Clare to Here

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, episode 190 – 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.

Ash is the theme of this post. I am recording and scheduling it with some urgency on the evening of Ash Wednesday here in Australia. Harold Wilson, British Prime Minister in the mid-1960s famously said, A week is a long time in politics. Well, it’s true also for geopolitics. Only a couple of days ago, I was preparing a Ralph McTell song for the current podcast with its accompanying text, but things have changed dramatically in that short space of time.

Now, we have a guy who seems to like being  photographed sitting at a very, very long table somewhere in Moscow, who has threatened the West three times (so far) with nuclear war. The last time this unthinkable catastrophe was massively in the global mind was during the Cuban Missile Crisis 60 years ago. Sanity prevailed then, thanks to level heads on both sides. JFK was one of the protagonists. He said something that is particularly fitting for where we are now: It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal…or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope and crossing each other from a million different centres of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.

This seems to describe what is happening as ordinary people in Ukraine and throughout the world- including Russia, it must be said- declare that it is not all right to invade a sovereign state. As country after country lines up to funnel, belatedly, military aid to Ukraine I am conscious of the words of the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace prize, Malala Yousafzai, If you want to end the war then Instead of sending guns, send books. Instead of sending tanks, send pens. Instead of sending soldiers, send teachers. Malala was the victim of misogyny and hatred as Taliban gunmen shot her in the head in 2012, leaving her for dead. Her crime in the eyes of those who ordered and carried out her shooting: taking the bus to school. That she survived is a triumph for the forces of good in the world.

Seventy years before Malala, another talented teenage girl, faced the evil of her circumstances with the following words: I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness – I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too. I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too shall end, that peace and tranquillity will return once more. And much as we may wish that the outcome for her had been otherwise, history records that Anne Frank perished in the death camp of Bergen-Belsen in February 1945, at age 15.

The world seems to me… topsy-turvy. This compound word is both an adjective and a noun meaning, upside down and a state of utter confusion, respectively.  I’m going to put the original song first- not because it is better than the cover but because it is more urgent. Its title, Peace is the Path, is from a saying of Mahatma Gandhi which in full goes: There is no path to peace. Peace is the path. The verses comprise the Beatitudes of Jesus and two voices arguing about(what else?)  peace. I use a Celtic air setting- without drums- enough drums beating in the world as it is, eh? [insert song]

What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others. This quotation is from Pericles, the  fifth century BC Athenian statesman- he too endured the horrors of war and knew what was of value. How often have you heard these words, It was a different world back then, usually spoken by someone of my vintage, pointing out the superiority of their era while, with no awareness of contradiction, pointing out how much tougher it was back in the day and how the mollycoddled mooks of today wouldn’t survive for a minute in the testing times of the past.

Of course, it was the same old world- just with a lot fewer people. I thought about this during the past week as Putin calculated that the West was not as united or coherent as it once was. But I remain hopeful that the 20% of the world’s population living in the freedoms guaranteed by the rule of law within liberal democracies will ultimately prevail against the malevolence of the autocratic players who are presently taking centre stage in the dramatic events preoccupying the world today.

For some reason, The International Geophysical Year, popped into my head: it was an international scientific project that lasted from 1 July 1957 to 31 December 1958. It marked the end of a long period during the Cold War when scientific interchange between East and West had been seriously interrupted. Sixty-seven countries participated in IGY projects, although one notable exception was the mainland People’s Republic of China, which was protesting against the participation of Taiwan. 

I told you it was the same old world- even back then. And back then, I was an 8-year-old voracious reader at Lago Elementary School in Aruba captivated by, as I remember, National Geographic Magazine’s account of this global event. Both the Soviet Union and the U.S. launched artificial satellites for this event; the Soviet Union’s Sputnik 1, launched on October 4, 1957, was the first successful artificial satellite. This epochal event spurred the establishment of NASA.  Other significant achievements of the IGY included the discovery of the Van Allen radiation belts by Explorer 1 and the defining of mid-ocean submarine ridges, an important confirmation of plate-tectonic theory. The establishment of the Antarctic Treaty was another triumph of this event.

Sixty-five years later, here I am listening to Donald Fagen’s coolly cynical 1982 hit, I.G.Y. (What a Beautiful World). Fagen’s lyrics sarcastically discuss the widespread optimistic vision of the future at that time, including futuristic concepts such as solar-powered cities, a transatlantic tunnel, permanent space stations and spandex jackets. The song criticises this vision and offers a humorous critique on the naïveté of post-war optimism in America and the Western world. Me? I’m still that optimistic 8-year-old child- eyes wide in wonder at the possibilities of scientific cooperation and progress.

Now to the second song of the post, From Clare to Here. This song demonstrates that, in some ways, the late fifties and early sixties were a different world. Folk singer-songwriter Ralph McTell worked on building sites in London with Irish labourers who befriended him. Then, the distance from the  rural west coast of Ireland to the English metropolis was alienating in more than one way. The once pious and amenable young men with a faithful sweetheart waiting at home, now fuelled by booze, fighting and the crack at the pub which siphons most of their money will never go back.

Today the young men may still be leaving the rural west coast of Clare- but they aren’t pious, and they are taking their girlfriends with them equipped with qualifications which open up more than menial labouring tasks as they set course for their future lives. In the last post I suggested that this song was a possibility for the indeterminate future. Of course, the future arrived more quickly than I anticipated because the only way I could get the song out of my head was to record it. The hook line of the chorus of From Clare to Here was supplied by one of Ralph’s Irish work mates who, when reflecting on the change from his home said, Yes, it’s a long way from Clare to here. [insert song] No trailer, again, but a poem about peace by Emily Dickinson: I many times thought Peace had come/When Peace was far away—/As Wrecked Men—deem they sight the Land—/At Centre of the Sea—/And struggle slacker—but to prove/As hopelessly as I—/ How many the fictitious Shores—/Before the Harbor be—

Credits: All written text, song lyrics andmusic (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. The IGY stuff is from this site.

Technical Stuff: Microphone- Shure SM58; (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter); Apogee 76K also used for songs and spoken text.

For recording and mixing down: 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used; Rubix 22 also used for mixing of microphone(s) and instruments. I use the Band in a Box/RealBand 2022 combo for music composition.

Letters From Quotidia Episode 189 The Streets of London (expanded version), Only You

Letters From Quotidia Episode 189 The Streets of London (expanded version) Only You

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, episode 189 – 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.

Fergal Keane, a foreign correspondent with the BBC persuaded his west London neighbour, the folk legend Ralph McTell, to do what no one else had been able to do in the fifty-plus years since his greatest hit, The Streets of London was first recorded: namely, to write a new verse in response to a contemporary event.  In 2020 as a new pandemic began to circle the globe, McTell wrote a new verse as a response to COVID-19 and its effect on homeless people. As he told Fergal Keane: “This is of biblical proportions, this catastrophe, and each day that goes by there is the realisation that this is no dress rehearsal, this is actually going on right now and there is nothing we can do about it, except try and follow the basic rules.”

I have incorporated this new verse into the first song of this post. I first heard the song from one of the folk aficionados at Trench house in late 1969: the aficionado in question had purchased McTell’s 1969 album, Spiral Staircase, and all the folkies immediately loved the song: it went, ah, viral. Remember, this was well before the internet so it’s hard to credit that within days of its release in Britain, it was being sung in Australia! But it must be true because McTell tells us so on his website. As for me- I was knocked out by the lyrics, the melody and, particularly, the chord progression of the song. At last count, there have been well over 200 commercial covers of the song- not to mention the many thousands of times it is being sung in clubs and around campfires worldwide every single year.

Banter, our wee folk group, which has been in prolonged hiatus because of the virus, has also presented this gem- with Sam the Man as the singer. But, here now, as I prepare to sing this great song, I reflect that only five years, chronologically, separate me from one of my folk heroes. He took his stage surname from the blues singer, Blind Willie McTell, whose music he admired. He was born in 1944 and raised by his mum in Croydon, a suburb of London. He has been part of the music scene since the 1960s and when I heard him sing the added verse to Streets of London courtesy of Fergal Keane of the BBC, and the internet in mid-February 2022, knew I had the song I would cover for the 189th Letter from Quotidia. Here it is: [insert song]

Fergal Keane, who is a nephew of John B Keane, a renowned Irish man of letters, asked McTell, after he had recorded the added verse, why he had done so. McTell told him that, as a singer-songwriter with an audience, he could, perhaps do something to make a difference saying, “Kindness is a word that seems to have dropped from a meaningful vocabulary. As human beings, it’s all we can do, it’s this thing we have in common.” He went on to say that he had heard just that day that Prince Charles had been affected by the virus; that it was indiscriminate, and that the infection would strike the highest to the lowest.

Remember, in March 2020, which was at the beginning of the pandemic, there were no vaccines or anti-viral drugs to ameliorate the effects of this novel pathogen emanating, apparently, from China. People witnessed fellow citizens being buried in mass graves and wondered what the future held. But the words that struck a chord with me were: “Kindness is all that we can offer to each other.” Now ain’t that the truth! Oh, yeah, one of the heroes of my young manhood remains a hero of my old age- and who knows? Perhaps I will have the chance to cover another of his songs in a future post- I do like From Clare to Here.

Regular visitors to Quotidia may be aware that I have a soft spot for the dithyramb. Wikipedia tells us that a dithyramb is an ancient Greek hymn sung and danced in honour of Dionysus, the god of wine and fertility; the term was also used as an epithet of the god. Plato, in The Laws, while discussing various kinds of music mentions “the birth of Dionysos, called, I think, the dithyramb.” Plato also remarks in The Republic that dithyrambs are the clearest example of poetry in which the poet is the only speaker. What’s not to like! The dithyrambic context summons up three of the more enduring preoccupations of my life: wine, women and song And, of course, the Greeks have a word for it: Hendiatris (from the Ancient Greek meaning ‘one through three’)  it is a figure of speech used for emphasis, in which three words are used to express one idea. The dithyramb also summons up awareness of the divine, the beatific.

Now, I ended the original  Quotidia sequence with just such a composition- you can find it at Letters From Quotidia Episode 120 podcast on 5th August 2021 . You know, it takes time to write stuff that means anything much at all. This is particularly the case with song which has both music and lyrics as components. And I was going to bolster this latest of my original compositions with disparaging comparisons to, say, tissue paper- which- let’s face it- has utility. I know that as I have grown older, that I resort to these disposable items more and more to address the increasing flow of mucus, especially while I am eating! (Oh, yuck, yeah, I know) I also, initially, sought to extend the disparagement by positing the concept of, “the will o’ the wisp” as the polar opposite of what I was doing.

Oh dear,  and as I started to chase this reference through the wilds of Wikipedia, I began to sympathise with those well-meaning people- and, let me be clear, I would never refer to them as deplorables– those well-meaning people, who have descended into the bewildering rabbit-holes of QAnon and who have found themselves bogged down in the assorted quagmires churned up by the troll farmers of Russia, China and all the other state and non-state malevolent entities who seek to undermine the values of  the beleaguered liberal democracies of the West. Yeah, I know, I’m old-fashioned, perhaps deluded, in that I still believe in the power of ordinary people. Anyway, I found myself surrounded by multitudinous references to ghost-tale traditions from all over this wonderful earth as well as concepts such as bioluminescence or chemiluminescence caused by the oxidation of phosphine,  diphosphane  and methane produced by organic decay. Oh! What?! The only way out of- if there is such an escape– this quagmirish rabbit-hole is (drum roll): poetry! Which I will apply to our fevered senses after this second dithyramb of the series. It’s title? Only You. [insert song]

No trailer again for next week as I am struggling to meet my deadline for this post. But I did promise a poem and I will preface it by three quotes about kindness: first, surprisingly perhaps, Roald Dahl, who published a collection of short stories with the title, Cruelty! But anyway, this is what he has to say about kindness: I think probably kindness is my number one attribute in a human being. I’ll put it before any of the things like courage, or bravery, or generosity, or anything else… Kindness—that simple word. To be kind—it covers everything, to my mind. If you’re kind that’s it. Next, Abraham Lincoln, perhaps the greatest of American presidents: Kindness is the only service that will stand the storm of life and not wash out. It will wear well and will be remembered long after the prism of politeness or the complexion of courtesy has faded away. Finally, back to the ancient Greeks and Aesop- he of the fables- No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.

The poem is supplied by that enigma of 19th Century American poetry- Emily Dickinson: If I can stop one heart from breaking,/I shall not live in vain;/If I can ease one life the aching,/Or cool one pain,/Or help one fainting robin/Unto his nest again,/I shall not live in vain. It’s sad to reflect that so many lives are, ostensibly, lived in vain, according to this prescription. But, maybe, somewhere under the carapace of cruelty and lack of empathy, there beats the possibility of a kind heart- until next week, then.

Credits: All written text, song lyrics andmusic (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- Shure SM58; (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter); Apogee 76K also used for songs and spoken text.

For recording and mixing down: 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used; Rubix 22 also used for mixing of microphone(s) and instruments. I use the Band in a Box/RealBand 2022 combo for music composition.

Letters From Quotidia Episode 188 Come Out Ye Black and Tans, Maximise My Clicks

Letters From Quotidia Episode 188 Come Out Ye Black and Tans, Maximise My Clicks

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, episode 188 – 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.

Last week I aped the typical politician and abandoned a promise made to give details of what is coming up, in the previous post. However, unlike the typical politician, I felt a twinge of regret about the omission! But on now to the first offering for this week.  Come Out, Ye Black and Tans: I first learned and sang this song in the early 1970s and I have admired its energy and defiance from that time. It is often misrepresented as a sectarian rant and I have encountered opposition to it on these grounds which, I hope, the following account which I have abridged from the entry in Wikipedia clears up:

The song was written by Dominic Behan as a tribute to his IRA father Stephen, who had fought in the War of Independence, and is concerned with political divisions in working-class Dublin of the 1920s. The song uses the term “Black and Tans” in the pejorative sense against people living in Dublin, both Catholic and Protestant, who were pro-British. The term, Black and Tans, refers to “special reserve constables” (mainly former World War I army soldiers), recruited in Great Britain and sent to Ireland from 1920, to reinforce the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) during the Irish War of Independence.   The setting of the song is the Dublin into which Dominic Behan was born in the late 1920s, and the main character in the song is Behan’s father, Stephen Behan, who was a prominent Irish republican, who had fought in the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War. 

The melody of the song was adapted by Behan from an old air, Battle-cry of Munster by 18th Century Irish writer, Pierce FitzGerald which, in one of those ironies of Irish history, is also used by the loyalist song The Boyne Water. The song tells the story of a regular dispute between republican and unionist neighbours in inner-city Dublin in the mid-1920s. During this era, Dublin continued to elect unionist pro-British politicians and voluntary service in the British Army was a popular career choice amongst working-class Dubliners, for both Catholics and Protestants. Supporting this tradition was the existence of a relatively large, and now generally forgotten and, indeed, disappeared, Dublin Protestant working class. It is this pro-British working class, of both religions, that the composer lambasts in the song. He asks them to come out and “fight me like a man”, stating that the “IRA had made the Black and Tans “run like hell away” from locations in rural Ireland such as the “green and lovely lanes of Killashandra” (which is in County Cavan, and where, in 1922, ex-RIC and Black and Tan soldiers were forced to flee the town after being given a few days warning to leave by the local IRA).

The lyrics make references to the history of Irish nationalism, and the conflicts of the British Army against opponents with inferior weaponry: “Come tell us how you slew them poor Arabs two by two / Like the Zulus, they had spears and bows and arrows” The lyrics reference the disdain by his neighbours (those “sneers and jeers that you loudly let us hear”), to the execution of the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising, and to the fall of the Irish nationalist political leader, Charles Stuart Parnell. In January 2020, The Wolfe Tones’ version of “Come Out Ye Black and Tans” reached number 1 on the Ireland and UK iTunes charts, as part of “widespread criticism” of the (Irish) Government’s planned commemoration of the RIC, as part of its “Decade of Commemoration” (commemorating the events of 1912–1922 in Ireland)

Ah, the fools, the fools!  Did they really think that a mere century was enough time to quell the fires of dissension in Irish hearts? Of course, musicians are, more often than not, fairly tolerant of music from a tradition adversarial to their own. Case in point: in the first half of the 1990s when we lived in North Queensland, we were friends with a couple from Northern Ireland. Tom played the bass and had a group based in Townsville. They would give a spirited rendition this song with Tom bellowing out the chorus with gusto- even though he was a fairly staunch Protestant.[insert song]

From one controversial writer to another. Just as Dominic Behan has had his detractors who claim he used, unacknowledged sources for some of his songs (including the one you have just heard) so, too, Johann Hari, the British journalist I have favourably referenced in a previous post about the disastrous war on drugs: Letter 85 A Packet of White Powder published on 23rd June 2021. His detractors accuse him of playing fast and loose with the truth and incorporating the observations of others within his own work! You know, maybe he should have been a writer of folksongs, eh?

But listen, in January 2022 he published a book entitled Stolen Focus where he persuasively advances the thesis that humankind is suffering from a debilitating attention deficit disorder brought on by how our mental processes are being adversely manipulated by the social media behemoths such as Facebook- I can’t yet bring myself to call it, what, Meta! But do spare a thought- and a dime perhaps?- for Mark Zuckerberg whose personal worth dropped by US$34 billion recently. I dare say he still has some walking-around money left, mmm? And, of course, Google, which dropped its Don’t Be Evil slogan a while back, perhaps in response to the ironic laughter echoing through the universe. Its parent company Alphabet declared a quarterly profit of 76 billion on 1 February 2022.

So, how have you all been faring in this, the third year of the global pandemic? A media guru here in Australia, the broadcaster Phillip Adams, is the host of a long-running show on public radio, Late Night Live, of which I have been a regular listener since he took over the helm of the show in 1991. Although most listeners and contributors are Australian, he has a world-wide audience and often has important voices from the US, British Isles, Europe- and elsewhere- canvassing a range of diverse and interesting topics. His podcast on the book Stolen Focus where he interviews Johann Hari may be of interest to listeners to the Letters From Quotidia. I know this small but select band do have attention spans greater than that of, say, goldfish, or viewers of the dancing denizens of Tik Tok.

The original song for this podcast is focused on a quintessential citizen of the digital domain. I listened to a bunch of songs from the site but couldn’t really put my heart into a parody of what I had auditioned. After all, a parody has to retain some affection for the form being mocked. So, I ended up with what you are about to hear. The title? Maximise My Clicks which seems to me to sum up what this stuff is all about. I shake my head in wonder and admiration at  independent bands who keep on playing but whose members only end up with a fistful of dollars each for, say, one hundred thousand downloads on any of the streaming platforms. [insert song]

Far too many of us  live in the splintered world depicted in the song. If you, too, are fractured into pieces under the relentless hammer-blows delivered by the devices we all seem to need- well, I have nothing to recommend but poetry to change the dynamic. Instead of trailing the songs for the next podcast, I will leave you with, The Crystal Gazer, by that wonderful American poet, Sara Teasdale: I shall gather myself into myself again,/I shall take my scattered selves and make them one,/Fusing them into a polished crystal ball/Where I can see the moon and the flashing sun.//I shall sit like a sybil, hour after hour intent,/ Watching the future come and the present go,/And the little shifting pictures of people rushing/In restless self-importance to and fro// Amazing, isn’t it, this insight from a poet who died in 1933, before TV, before the internet, before the enslaving devices we peer into anxiously for most of our waking hours.

Credits: All written text, song lyrics andmusic (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- Shure SM58; (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter); Apogee 76K also used for songs and spoken text.

For recording and mixing down: 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used; Rubix 22 also used for mixing of microphone(s) and instruments. I use the Band in a Box/RealBand 2022 combo for music composition.

Letters From Quotidia Episode 187 With My Swag All On My Shoulder, Lady Godiva and the Emperor

Letters From Quotidia Episode 187 With My Swag All On My Shoulder, Lady Godiva and the Emperor

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, episode 187 – 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.

This week I continue the Irish-Australian connection with a song made famous by The Seekers, that Aussie folk-pop group popular throughout the English-speaking world in the 1960s The song for this post has had a chequered career. It’s called With My Swag All On My Shoulder, and derives from an earlier song, Dennis O’Reilly. And now I let the site mainlynorfolk.info take up the tale: Shirley Collins recorded Dennis O’Reilly in a two day session in London in 1958 for her 1960 LP False True Lovers. Alan Lomax commented in the album’s notes:

Dennis O’Reilly is an instance of the speed with which folk songs are travelling nowadays. It began its life as one of the many songs of the Irish immigrants to Australia. Mister Goodwin of Leichhardt, New South Wales, picked it up on the Nambucca River of NSW and, when he was 73, sang it for Cecil English and John Meredith. From them it passed into the repertoire of Edgar Waters, the Australian ballad collector, who brought it to England and taught it to Shirley Collins. My guess is that from her record it will pass into the repertoire of the young folk singers on this continent. I first came across With My Swag All On My Shoulder from my copy of Paterson’s Old Bush Songs in the mid-1970s.

This song, the tune of which is a variant of ‘The Boys of Wexford’, was collected by John Manifold from Father P.P.Kehoe of Kyabram, Victoria in the 1950’s according to folkstream.com An American writer on history, James S. Davis,  has published an exhaustive historical account on the song on the site http://www.hhhistory.com which I recommend, where he writes:

The Victoria Gold Rush increased Australia’s population by 163 percent from 1851 to 1861, making the 1850s perhaps the most pivotal decade in the continent’s history since the arrival of the First Convict Fleet in 1788. Many British, Irish, and Scottish fortune seekers who could not pay for passage signed on as crew for ships heading to Melbourne. Usually, they were expected to make the return trip to England as well. However, when they reached Port Phillip Bay, it was common for the sailors to fling themselves from the ships and storm ashore to seek their fortune. Contemporary sources speak of upward of 100 ships desolately anchored in the bay without crews. Some captains gave up in disgust and went to the goldfields themselves.

Yeah, that sounds about right! However, during those years, an event took place that shaped the history of Australia. It is known as The Eureka Stockade. I find it interesting that the song makes no mention of this, but that may be the subject for a future post. Here is a potted account of that rebellion and I take this from the National Museum of Australia site:

The gold miners revolted against the authorities attempts to levy hefty licence fees and this culminated on 3 December 1854 with the storming of the rebel miner’s encampment where 300 mounted and foot troopers as well as police attacked the stockade killing at least 22 diggers with the loss of six soldiers. The police arrested and detained 113 of the miners. Eventually 13 were taken to Melbourne to stand trial… but the citizens of Victoria were opposed to what the government had done…and one by one the 13 leaders of the rebellion were tried by jury and released. The upshot: the licence fee was removed, twelve new members were added to the Victorian Legislative Council, four appointed by the Queen and eight elected by those diggers who held a miner’s right. It was a victory for the miners and was one of the key steps to Victoria instituting male suffrage in 1857 and female suffrage in 1908.

In the development of democracy in Australia, this, IMHO, was of more moment than all of the gold dug up in that decade. The song references the spending sprees of diggers who struck gold– I made a fortune in a day and spent it in a week. The image of an Australian bushman with his swag on his shoulder and billy can in his hand is an enduring one and it lives on in legend- and songs such as Waltzing Matilda- as he tramps the bush tracks of Australia under the constellation of The Southern Cross which, in my imagination, fell to earth towards the end of 1854 and was sewn, by resourceful women who supported the miner’s rebellion, onto a piece of fine woollen cloth to become the defiant flag of the Eureka Stockade. [insert song]

You know, for just a moment there, I toyed with the idea of postulating, rather pretentiously, a post-modern take on two well-known stories that many of the visitors to Quotidia will be familiar with: The Emperor’s New Clothes and the tale of Lady Godiva’s ride through Coventry. The first is a literary folk-tale by Hans Christen Andersen and Wikipedia give the plot thus:

Two swindlers arrive at the capital city of an emperor who spends lavishly on clothing at the expense of state matters. Posing as weavers, they offer to supply him with magnificent clothes that are invisible to those who are stupid or incompetent. The emperor hires them, and they set up looms and go to work. Finally, the weavers report that the emperor’s suit is finished. They mime dressing him and he sets off in a procession before the whole city. The townsfolk uncomfortably go along with the pretence, not wanting to appear inept or stupid, until a child blurts out that the emperor is wearing nothing at all. The people then realize that everyone has been fooled. Although startled, the emperor continues the procession, walking more proudly than ever.

The Lady Godiva story has several variants, but basically it goes: Lady Godiva took pity on the people of Coventry, who were suffering grievously under her husband’s oppressive taxation. Lady Godiva appealed again and again to her husband, who obstinately refused to lower the taxes. At last, weary of her entreaties, he said he would grant her request if she would strip naked and ride on a horse through the streets of the town. Lady Godiva took him at his word, and after issuing a proclamation that all persons should stay indoors and shut their windows, she rode through the town, clothed only in her long hair. Just one person in the town, a tailor ever afterwards known as ‘Peeping Tom’, disobeyed her proclamation in what is the most famous instance of voyeurism.

I decided to fuse the two stories by having the infamous Tom appear in both. I also determined to have the Lady Godiva and the Emperor apotheosised among the stars above. I was going to strain credulity even further by citing quantum mechanics and the many worlds interpretation of the universe where just about everything imaginable takes place in one of the infinite iterations of reality.

So, can you handle the truth? Trying to awaken my snoozing muse, I strummed a series of chord progressions and rescue arrived in a little bridge comprising just four D chord variants which prompted the words, Everybody knows the Emperor has no clothes to pop into my head. After that, I just had a bit of fun piecing together the rest of the song. But feel free to go with the quantum mechanical explanation if you wish. [insert song]

I haven’t worked out yet what next week’s offerings are so, the following, from the site Poem-a-day by Newark poet Dimitri Reyes is tendered: Oye! This is an Apartment Building Ode/ But not just any ode, an ode about breathing, /walking, jumping skipping, running people/an ode to the time when we’d remember what/ odes felt like to read outside/ An ode about/ oding so hard it boxes itself into a sonnet/ Harder than bus stop benches and hard rail/ seats, taxes and systemic poverty. The oding/ of this poem is an apartment building sonnet/about people stacked up like bricks like words/in a sonnet. People that will tap your shoulder/to make sure you’re listening to the fact that this/poem is a token, a favour, a shirt off their back./Oye, this is The Apartment Building Ode//  

Credits: All written text, song lyrics andmusic (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- Shure SM58; (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter); Apogee 76K also used for songs and spoken text.

For recording and mixing down: 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used; Rubix 22 also used for mixing of microphone(s) and instruments. I use the Band in a Box/RealBand 2022 combo for music composition.

Letters From Quotidia Episode 186 The Wild Colonial Boy, Piazza Piece

Letters From Quotidia Episode 186 The Wild Colonial Boy, Piazza Piece

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, episode 186 – 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 folk song to start this letter is The Wild Colonial Boy. The tune originated in Ireland and emigrated to Australia. It first appeared in print around 1830. One possible origin is Jack Donahue, an 1820s Irish convict who, sent to Australia, became a bushranger, and was eventually shot dead in 1830. Another possibility is that the song refers to an 1860s Australian convict named John Doolan, born in Castlemaine Victoria, who also turned to bushranging. And it’s possible that the identities and the histories of Donohue and Doolan became blended over time to produce the lyrics of the modern ballad.

Jack Donahue was born in Dublin, Ireland about 1806. An orphan, he began pick-pocketing and, after later involvement in a burglary, was convicted of intent to commit a felony in 1823. He was transported with 200 other prisoners to Australia, arriving in Sydney in January 1825. During his early imprisonment, he was twice sentenced to fifty lashes as punishment. Donahue escaped to the bush from the Quakers Hill farm he was assigned to work at with two men named George Kilroy and William Smith. They formed an outlaw gang known as “The Strippers,” since they stripped wealthy landowners of their clothing, money, and food. Servants on the farms sometimes provided them with information about their masters, and at times even provided them with food and shelter.

On 14 December 1827, Donohue and his gang were arrested for robbing bullock-drays on the Sydney to Windsor Road- near where I live now! On 1 March 1828, Judge John Stephen of the Supreme Court of Sydney sentenced them all to death. Between the court and the gaol, Donohue managed to escape from custody. Evading capture, Donohue linked up with other criminals to rob isolated farms around Bathurst, which is a rugged trek over the Blue Mountains- 200 kilometres distant- a long, hard journey by horseback in those days. The government sent reinforcements and aboriginal trackers to locate the outlaws and a shoot-out occurred. But Donohue, once again, managed to escape. 

He later become one of the “Wild Colonial Boys”, a loose-bonded gang of twelve to fifteen men. Donohue’s cunning and guile soon had him on equal standing as the leaders of this gang. In groups of three or four, they would lay in wait for travellers on the highway or, knowing settlers to be away from home, they would attack and plunder their houses. They even attacked a toll house and carried off everything worth taking. Donohue’s tact and ways of only robbing the better off procured him a host of friends among the poorer settlers. They gave the police false information about him and, when the authorities were dogging him rather too hard, the settlers stowed him away in their back rooms or under the beds.

But Donohue’s luck finally ran out: in the late afternoon of 1 September 1830, He was shot dead by John Muckleston, following a shootout between the bushrangers and soldiers at Bringelly, New South Wales, just over 30 kilometres south of where I live. Donohue was hit in the left temple and neck dying instantly. The Sydney Gazette, on behalf of “all respectable citizens”, rejoiced at Donohue’s death. Smoking pipes were made in the shape of Donohue’s head, including the bullet-holes in his forehead, and were bought and smoked by the citizens of Sydney. Of course, the Authorities tried to ban The Wild Colonial Boy. Instead, it became a ballad of defiance, sung by generations of Australians, becoming part of Australia’s folklore.

The line that has struck an enduring chord is “I’ll fight but not surrender, cried the Wild Colonial Boy. Thanks to that great resource, Wikipedia, for most of the info given above. The tune I use for this rendition is a reel as opposed to the better-known waltz variant, which I have always felt just a tad too merry and relaxed to convey the frantic, helter-skelter existence of the outlaw. See if you agree: [insert song]

T. S. Eliot, in Whispers of Immortality tells us: Webster was much possessed by death/And saw the skull beneath the skin;/ And breastless creatures underground/ Leaned backward with a lipless grin// I think John Crowe Ransom, likewise, was possessed by death in his poetry. In his moving lament for the death of a child in Bells For John Whiteside’s Daughter, the stark contrast between the flurry of activity that was a little girl chasing the geese from orchard to pond as her febrile energy echoed across the cosmos, comes to a shuddering halt in the dark room where her lifeless body lies:

But now go the bells, and we are ready,/In one house we are sternly stopped/To say that we are vexed at her brown study/Lying so primly propped// The bells here remind us of John Donne’s famous admonition: never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee. Ransom shows us another lively girl in Janet Waking. Again, the subject is death (isn’t it obvious from the title?) But here death does not claim the girl, but rather her beloved pet hen, Chucky. Waking after a long sleep, we are told in line two of the poem that it was deeply morning: m.o.r.n.i.n.g.

You don’t need too large a portion of perspicacity with your porridge to realise that it doesn’t bode well for her dainty-feathered hen. Poor Chucky is no more because It was a transmogrifying bee/Came droning down on Chucky’s old bald head/And sat and put the poison/ The crying girl appeals to all of us “Wake her from her sleep!” And would not be instructed in how deep/ Was the forgetful kingdom of death.//

Which brings us to Piazza Piece. I first read this as a student at Trench House in early 1971. I was pivoting between life as a student politician and editor to that of married man. Death and beauty were all around me. I have revisited the poem from time to time over the years and now at the opening gasps of 2022, half a century later, I am coming at the poem again to see if I can craft a song from its materials. As I look at internet pictures from the year, 1971, from the archives of The Belfast Telegraph, one reminds me of Janet’s pet hen, Chucky: a youth is captured on a black and white photograph, tarred and feathered for some transgression of the code obtaining on the violent streets of the time.

White feathers flutter down upon the bowed head as tar runs in streaks over head, face, neck and body. In Piazza Piece, Ransom shows us a personification of death in the shape of an old man in a dustcoat. He is trying to gain the attention of a young woman. Please read the sonnet for yourself: it is a wonderful example of the form as well as offering  a fine insight into the poet’s aesthetic vision. Readers of Letters From Quotidia will know that Ransom’s poetry has been visited before to supply the lyrics of a song. (I refer you to Captain Carpenter in Letter 126.) You may judge how close I come in this waltz time composition to encompassing the world of the sonnet. [insert song]

Our next excursion to the land of Quotidia, finds us visiting the miner’s rebellion in 1854 Victoria and a contemporaneous Irish-Australian folk song that doesn’t even mention it- go figure! The original song is still being pieced together but I can reveal, and I think this is the right word, that it features a couple of naked persons, a fine horse and a pair of swindlers. There will be more, I’m sure, but you’ll just have to wait for a week to learn more.

In the meantime, here are a couple of quotations about patience for your calm consideration: Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet. The ancient egghead Aristotle crafted that one! Margaret Atwood in The Penelopiad, writes: Water is patient. Dripping water wears away a stone. Remember that my child. Remember you are half water. If you can’t go through an obstacle, go around it.  Water does. I’ll leave it there: I’ve tested your patience enough, I think. See you next week in Quotidia!

Credits: All written text, song lyrics andmusic (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- Shure SM58; (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter); Apogee 76K also used for songs and spoken text

For recording and mixing down: 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used; Rubix 22 also used for mixing of microphone(s) and instruments. I use the Band in a Box/RealBand 2022 combo for music composition

Letters From Quotidia Episode 185 The Gaol at Clun Malla, The Definition of Insanity

Letters From Quotidia Episode 185 The Gaol at Clun Malla, The Definition of Insanity

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, episode 185 – a podcast by Quentin Bega for lovers of music, poetry, and the Crack- that most Irish of nouns which may encompass, news, gossip, fun, entertainment, and enjoyable conversation. Quotidia is that space, that place, where ordinary people lead ordinary lives. But where, from time to time, they encounter the extraordinary.

I’ll start with some background to that venerable Irish folk song, The Gaol of Clun Malla. Thought to have been written by Jeremiah James Callanan sometime around 1820; it is also known as The Convict Of Clonmel. Clonmel is in County Tipperary, Ireland which is the earliest of the Irish counties established in 1328. As a matter of special interest to Australian listeners, Ned Kelly’s father was born in this county in 1820- at around the time the first featured folk song for this year was written. Edward Hayes, in The Ballads of Ireland published in Boston, USA in 1859 states that he does not know the hero of the song but has a long note explaining the popularity of hurling and, of course, defending the game from the many English detractors.

Hayes’s note on this is an exact quote from Duffy, who may in turn be quoting Callanan. Charles Gavan Duffy, who edited The Ballad Poetry of Ireland, 1845, makes Callanan the translator from the Irish and according to Granger’s Index to Poetry (which cites this five times), the poem was not written by Callanan, but rather translated from an unknown but contemporary Irish source. Ah, the contention of scholars! Kilkenny Cats, anyone! And, FYI, the Cats is the county nickname for the Kilkenny Hurling team- go the cats! I simply listen to the song as sung by Luke Kelly who learned it from his friend, Liam Clancy- both of these artists peerless in their presentation of the material.

Hurling was said to be nearly extinct before being revived in 1870 and the pride of a young man glorying in his mastery of that ancient sport is neatly counterbalanced by his gentleness when playing with a child. His heart breaks as he recalls dancing with the fair maidens whose presence the evening will hallow. And that poignancy is deepened by the fact that their dancing will continue without his presence. This moving meditation on his approaching execution has, for me, the same emotional heft as other meditations on death and farewells by poets from the 18th and 19th Centuries such as The Parting Glass heard on Letters From Quotidia, Episode 136.

The Clonmel lyrics also bring to mind the death-poem of Chidiock TIchbourne, the 24-year-old participant in the 1586 Babington Plot to assassinate Elizabeth the First of England. Luke Kelly, as I said, learned the song, The Jail of Clonmel from his good friend Liam Clancy and if you want an example of bravura ballad singing go to YouTube and listen to Luke Kelly’s version. When the Clancys and the Dubliners were travelling around Ireland performing at the fleadh cheoils, they used to meet at various pubs and swap songs.

According to the site Irish Folk Songs, The Jail of Clonmel dates from the time of the agrarian troubles in the second half of the eighteenth century, when the Whiteboys were engaged in intimidating landlords. The Whiteboys were members of small, largely Catholic, peasant bands in Ireland. First organised around 1759, the members formed a secret oath-bound society, which for about seventy years plagued the authorities with intractable problems in rural Ireland. The Whiteboy disturbances first broke out in Clogheen in Co. Tipperary, in the year 1761, when groups of men assembled by night to level ditches which landlords and graziers had erected around the common land on which, until then, the people had enjoyed free grazing rights.

In Ireland, as in Britain, the ancient rights enjoyed by peasants from time immemorial were being ruthlessly extinguished. First, they were called Levellers, but soon additional grievances with regard to rent and tithes were added. As the movement spread, they began wearing white shirts, and soon became known in the Irish language as Buachailli Bána or Whiteboys. The purpose of the white shirt was so that they could recognise one another in the dark. Later, between the years 1775 through 1785, their hostility was largely aimed at tithe collectors. The tithe collectors taxed dissenting Protestants of all denominations and, of course, Catholics, to support the established “Church of Ireland” which was an offshoot of the established Church of England. Here is my version of the song. [insert song]

What is the definition of insanity? Popular culture’s most obvious and most quoted statement is usually attributed to Albert Einstein which goes Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result (although no one can pin down the quote to anything the eminent egghead actually said or wrote). Oh…Kay. Well, I guess that makes me insane. I’ve been writing songs in each of the past six decades and persist in this apparent madness, for this one which is marking my journey through my seventies. The result thus far is the same as it has always been- an enormous yawn from Lady Fortuna.

So, should I give up? Do you know, it doesn’t occur to me to throw in the towel, just yet? Actually, the song I have written to kick off 2022’s continuation of last year’s Letters From Quotidia is called, The Definition of Insanity. But I won’t bore you with a trawl through medical tomes or philosophical treatises. Instead, here are a couple of interesting verse commentaries: Lewis Carroll, in his  Bruno and Sylvie books published between 1889-1893 had this to say in his poem, The Mad Gardener’s Song: He thought he saw an Elephant/That practised on a fife:/He looked again, and found it was/A letter from his wife/”At length I realise,” he said,/”The bitterness of Life?”//

Emily Dickinson in her inimitable way finds a dichotomy that we all recognise- but usually from a distance and only after the passage of quite a bit of time. She writes: Much Madness is divinest Sense –/To a discerning Eye –/Much Sense – the starkest Madness –/’Tis the Majority/In this, as all, prevail –/Assent – and you are sane –/Demur – you’re straightway dangerous –/And handled with a Chain –// The sort of sense promulgated after the US election in November, 2020 by Number 45, QAnon, and various other peddlers of the pernicious conspiracy theories infecting the internet is, to use Emily Dickinson’s phrase, the starkest Madness! Or… are we still too close in time and consequence to make this call? We’ll see, I guess.

And talking about madness, it’s clear that the short respite during the 1990s and Noughties we had here in the West from our overwhelming and imminent fear of World War Three has roared back to life as Putin confronts NATO over its encroachment on Russia’s eastern and southern flanks and Xi Jinping spurs the dragon to action in the South China Sea and beyond as three fearsome American subs surface simultaneously in the waters surrounding China. As a citizen of Australia, I must confess to feeling a tad uneasy at the geopolitical situation unfolding here in our part of the world.

For totalitarian systems of governance, to be a dissenter is, ipso facto, to be insane- for who in their right mind could possibly question the inalterable rightness of whatever truth the controllers of the polity determine it to be? And if it changes, at the whim of the great leader, perhaps, who are we to question his puissance and foresight? So, Here’s my song- The Definition of Insanity.  [insert song]

Yeah, let’s cut to the chase- apparently the phrase originated in the silent movies of early cinema in the US, and it has spread far beyond to become- my goodness! A meme! meaning- get to the point! Of course, there is also a more sinister overlay of meaning in the concluding verse of my song. But on to the enticements of next week where we will encounter and survive, one hopes, The Wild Colonial Boy, the subject of a popular Irish-Australian Folk song.  John Crowe Ransom supplies the title and inspiration for the original composition, Piazza Piece.

Credits: All written text, song lyrics andmusic (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- Shure SM58; (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter); Apogee 76K also used for songs and spoken text.

For recording and mixing down: 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used; Rubix 22 also used for mixing of microphone(s) and instruments. I use the Band in a Box/RealBand 2022 combo for music composition.

Letters From Quotidia Episode 184 And Leave Him There 10

Letters From Quotidia Episode 184 And Leave Him There Part 10

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, Episode 184. Our host is sitting in his chair reading from a book of poetry. He likes short poems and he likes poems that speak to him without having to put in too much mental effort, although it must be said that in a previous life- when he was a young man, I mean, not a previous incarnation- he took delight in foraging in many a difficult tome in order to impress- who knows? He rises now and crosses to the window where the glimmering of natural light is beginning to vanquish the artificial illumination that has transformed for a century at least our world at night-time.

How can we know the dancer from the dance? Yeats asked this question in a poem written a lifetime ago. My question is: What is left of the dance when the dancer has gone away? Islands have been the defining settings of my life: not formed in the great central land masses of the Americas or Eurasia. Ireland, Aruba, the Isle of Man, the island continent of Australia- which is huge- but small in some very important ways: there is less variation in custom and language across the length and breadth of that ancient land than between adjacent glens in the land of my birth. And finally to this island that is, according to its inhabitants, the world- Manhattan.

Finally. Finality. I won’t be leaving this place: Manhattan. I have come to value its energy (which I possess in declining quantities), its expansive optimism (which I once possessed) its sense that everything is do-able (which I know, in my case, is a fallacy). I wish for my family to … Be careful what you wish for, they say. From my mid-forties, I had started to deteriorate physically- not surprising, I had led an indulgent life. And so, the taking of an increasing repertoire of tablets at breakfast-time began. And how I railed against my admittedly deserved fate. How I wished I no longer had to work, toad-like, to bring home the bacon. And I prayed. Did I in a drunken fugue invoke the Master of Lies to answer them? I prayed for a little more time for doing the things that I wanted to really do and a little money to…to…

When I learned I had won almost $20 million on Lotto, I passed out. Everyone laughed. Why is it that we laugh when we see people fall down? Gordo certainly would have laughed had I fallen from that lighting pole. Best go for a check-up, though. Better safe than sorry. Sorry, the doctor said. I have some bad news. I had just made it out of the 20th Century only to learn that I had less than a year to live. Give or take. Maybe two years, – who can tell! Live it up, some said. What can’t you do now? Well, I can’t buy time, apparently. Amazing what we do to save ourselves when there’s a definite use-by date? Didn’t give up the smokes and booze, didn’t take up exercise, didn’t follow all that good advice that doctors love to dispense. Before the diagnosis.

And did I fall for the schemes of the cruel hoaxers who prey on those peri-mortem mortals? I did. But I caught myself on, as the saying goes, before my credulous longing for life, more life, had bled too much from my now voluminous bank accounts. And I came back to the more-or-less real world. And my research led me to the institute here in Manhattan where miracles are not for sale, but quality of life is- ; bade farewell to Sydney, flew to England where we booked a cruise, my wife and I, and crossed the Atlantic. I now have the wherewithal to indulge a long-held wish to live in Manhattan.

And I’ve seen the Yankees play! A dream come true from…long ago, you know, I played for the Yankees, in the Little League in Aruba, yeah, we called ourselves the Yankees, and we wore similar stripes and caps. God, how I loved that uniform.  I was put in to bat because I was small, and, hunched over, created a miniscule shoulder to knee slot for the opposing pitcher! I could see and hit the ball too, in those long-ago days- nights mostly, under the lights at Rodgers Field near the Esso Club, one of which I almost fell off courtesy of that psycho Gordo.

There is a certain irony in the sombre fact that that I am here to die in the city that never sleeps. But the big sleep is coming. There is no cure, but I can purchase a delay in the pain that is coming as surely as the sun will rise. Can I make a bit of a confession? I’m not sticking strictly to protocol here. Eddie, the ever-accommodating Eddie, has put me in touch with another doctor who has had some, ah, problems with the pernickety accreditation boards here in the city.He has been most helpful in augmenting the approved analgesic regime. But, whether above-board or under the table- it costs quite a bit. (I wonder, do my kids think that I am in thrall to those new bumper-stickers that have begun to appear over the last while; you know, the ones about blowing the children’s inheritance?

As a baby boomer I am a part of the most selfish generation in history- according to some.) Don’t worry kids there’ll be enough left over after I’ve finished throwing all that cash at the black something that is hurtling towards me.)  It’s coming for you too. But you don’t believe it do you? Not really. Yes, we booked an ocean cruise on one of those majestic liners- and not by accident either; you see, I had made this crossing before- I first crossed the Atlantic back in 1956 on that famous Cunard liner The Queen Mary when my mother took me and my sisters to re-join my father in Aruba after a visit home for her to connect with my older brothers who were staying with my aunt on the family farm. I loved that ship. I still remember getting into an elevator with my sisters- we were exploring, as I recall. Some drunken guy tousled my hair and predicted that I would someday be president of the USA. But I don’t think they’ll change the constitution- just for me.

And even if they did…I will, though, see my wife tomorrow evening.  She has been away,and this mouse has been at play. She flew back to Australia to visit our grandson for his birthday. Ha! She thinks that she will surprise me when she- TAH-DAA- comes through that door, bringing my daughter and my only grandson. (Alas, my genes and chromosomes lament, that I have not more.) She doesn’t know that I know that they have landed a few hours ago and are checked in at the airport hotel. I only wish we had the space to put them all up here. I miss my wife, I miss my daughter, but there is a hunger in me for a sight, sound, touch, and smell of my grandson- I miss him more than I know how to elucidate…They’ll do a spot of sightseeing before coming here.

Eddie, he’s more than just the doorman downstairs- he’s part of the fabric of this building, where we have rented for a year, with the option of a further  six months, this cosy little apartment. Eddie confided to me that earlier tonight, as I embarked on my usual evening constitutional, that he has arranged an early morning view of Manhattan for them all from the tallest point in the city- the miracle of the internet and email, eh? He knows everyone worth knowing, apparently. I must feign surprise, I suppose, when they burst into this room, as they surely will, in just a few short hours, telling me I must, when my current treatment is completed, take in the wondrous views to be had from the mighty towers of Mammon.

And Mammon has enabled me to live in this tower and how good it is! So why do I feel that I shouldn’t have this luck when so many…Catholic guilt, I guess. I wrote a poem once when I was feeling low. I was fifteen. I had read Byron’s Darkness and I had a darkness of my own to convey (although, how dark, really is the world of a teenage boy- it seemed black as pitch at the time; but now, I smile at his innocent anguish- Oh Lord! Listen to the middle-aged fogey. I have kept with me very, very little of my poetic or prosaic output. Indeed, before we came here, I consigned to long-term storage boxes of…ephemera… I supposed it should be called. At one stage, as I contemplated mortality screaming around the curve, coming straight for me, I thought I would finally put it all together in a big book- get it published. Hell, I can now afford to publish it privately and buy enough copies to get it on some hack reviewer’s list.

Then I thought a better thought. And so, I have kept nothing, well almost. This I kept. I was fifteen; I thought the world existed only for me. But even then, somehow, heard the blackness roaring just beyond the limits of perception. Allow me to read to you. It is the poem I wrote at the advanced age of fifteen years! It is called Explication:

Like a poem carved upon an ancient bone/Dug out of an ash-pit,/An outline of a heart in bog-oak/Dragged up and into the open air,/The remnants of an ancient tune/Whistling through the shaking leaves/Of the last stand of native trees/Left on a fissured plain/,Let my voice, telling of love/And letdowns, carry across/The fields of time spread/To the shimmering edges/Of eternity fringed with/A sparkling circlet of stars/Before they wink out/One by one,/Swallowed by the incurious/Blankness beyond./

Now what on earth did I know then, all those decades ago, to write such words? It was as though that fifteen-year-old boy reached through the fabric of time and space, into this room and into this heart to find them. Words. Words. Words. So many, many words: so few worth reading…writing…hearing…speaking. I love the sea and I love the ships that sail on it so, I suppose, it is no surprise that I love The Tempest where all the drowned sailors and seafarers are discovered safe and well. The girl on the desolate island finds true love and is restored to her princely patrimony, the imprisoned spirits of light are set free and even the monster gets to keep his island with the admonition that he should mend his ways. The magic of theatre. The magic of books. The triumph of the imagination.And what is left to tell? Too much. Or maybe there is nothing worth telling. I can’t decide. Time to sleep, and when I wake, I trust that all will be well. All will be well.  [play Coda] [play Coda sting]

And so we leave our protagonist sleeping in his reclining chair. The dawn’s early light has now banished the stars and the stripes of the magical Manhattan lights and the forecast is for a wonderful Fall day on this the 11th day of September 2001, when this great metropolis will roar back to life and the new century, the new millennium will sail on into the promise of a glorious tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.  [end: with usual intro/outro]

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- Shure SM58; (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter); Apogee 76K also used for songs and spoken text

For recording and mixing down: 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used; Rubix 22 also used for mixing of microphone(s) and instruments. I use the Band in a Box/RealBand 2022 combo for music composition

Letters From Quotidia Episode 183 And Leave Him There 9

Letters From Quotidia Episode 183 And Leave Him There Part 9

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, Episode 183. The last we heard of our hero when we closed out the previous episode was of him, after pondering a while the larger questions of life and considering a range of answers, attempting to play a part on the guitar that got him and many others like him, turfed out of music shops worldwide in the late sixties. This was not any sort of answer, even though the title of the song with the contentious intro was Stairway to Heaven. So, we will join him again. There he is, head still bowed over his guitar, hands clasped around the neck, as if in prayer. But we know better. He is just catching some well-earned zzzz’s. He stirs. He sets the beautiful blue guitar back on its stand and re-commences his pacing about the apartment.

The answer. Always less important than the questions and assumptions preceding it. In the beginning was the word. And I’ll bet it was punctuated with a question mark. And I’ll ask a question: who here can remember a world without TV? I can: through a quirk of fate that washed me up on a small desert island that did not have access, in my formative years, with the cathode ray tube that has beamed its reality into homes across the western world since before most of us were born. Books and life and people formed me. And film- a gracious washing of a huge screen with larger-than-life colour and character and story while we sat, a community of aficionados, bound in the gentle dark by popcorn and projectiles- those bits of candy fired in unseeable arcs to bounce off the heads of enemies or strangers.

But TV back then was a  mundane artefact, squatting in the corner killing conversation and inventing worlds of soap and gameshows and sponsored sport. Thankfully I am too old now to speculate on its latest morphing into the active-matrix screen on laptops and a billion pixels on computer monitors. Being no expert, I can confidently assert- this is not an advance. No question mark- Therefore suspect! How much has been written on, about, for and against, television. And how much is worth consuming, even once. My usual default is poetry and here is something from a poem by Howard Nemerov that I find worthy of more than one repetition: its title is A Way of Life

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

Horror movies, the howling werewolf, black-cloaked vampires with preternatural strength, swamp monsters, assorted trolls, goblins and giants from grim folk tales peopled?…no, creatured my hungry, youthful imagination fed by books and movies that seem quaint today beside the chic- ironic, yet puerile, slayer in designer clothes wisecracking to befuddled, barely-comprehending adults as demons explode in colourful pixels against the point of her postmodern wooden stake. Another generation’s hunger for information about the dark side is nourished by a flashier special- effects menu than was available to mine. And those years of feeding at the table of horrors wasn’t preparation enough to enable me to comprehend the real horrors that lurked in recent history.

I remember when Eichmann was captured by the Israelis and tried in Jerusalem. I looked in vain for the mark of the Beast on those bland features. I had read The Scourge of the Swastika by Lord Liverpool, and stared at stark photographs of black-booted sinisters, some smoking nonchalantly, standing over pits of murdered people. Could this bespectacled clerk be the author of so many deaths? Yes. At the behest of his Master. In concert with others of his bureaucratic kind who were in on the secret. Aided and abetted by the minor functionaries who enable the infrastructure of modern society. Made possible, finally, because so many people could look away and later deny any knowledge.

But the answer still doesn’t make sense. All our resources of language, all our intelligence, sensibilities, sensitivities, imagination fall short of the task. And even our greatest poets despair at delineating the horror that was the Holocaust- still the pattern par excellence for the bland-featured sociopaths who have a plan that doesn’t include so many on this earth and whose solution is every bit as final as that proposed at the Wanersee Conference so many years ago. This unspeakable horror was captured by that great poet, Paul Celan, in his poem The Fugue of Death, which broke the bounds of language to try to shout out to an unhearing universe what it was like to articulate the truth:

Black milk of daybreak we drink it at nightfall/we drink it at noon in the morning we drink it at night/drink it and drink it/we are digging a grave in the sky it is ample to lie there/A man in the house he plays with the serpents he writes/he writes when the night falls to Germany your golden hair Margarete/he writes it and walks from the house the stars glitter he whistles his dogs up/he whistles his Jews out and orders a grave to be dug in the earth/he commands us now on with the dance/Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night/we drink in the mornings at noon we drink you at nightfall/drink you and drink you/A man in the house he plays with the serpents he writes/he writes when the night falls to Germany your golden hair Margarete/Your ashen hair Shulamith we are digging a grave in the sky it is ample to lie there/He shouts stab deeper in earth you there you others you sing and you play/ he grabs at the iron in his belt and swings it and blue are his eyes/ stab deeper your spades you there and you others play on for the dancing/ Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night/we drink you at noon in the mornings we drink you at nightfall/drink you and drink you/a man in the house your golden hair Margarete/your ashen hair Shulamith he plays with the serpents/He shouts play sweeter death’s music death comes as a master from Germany/he shouts stroke darker the strings and as smoke you shall climb to the sky/then you’ll have a grave in the clouds it is ample to lie there/Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night/we drink you at noon death comes as a master from Germany/we drink you at nightfall and morning we drink you and drink you/a master from Germany death comes with eyes that are blue/with a bullet of lead he will hit the mark he will hit you/a man in the house your golden hair Margarete/he hunts us down with his dogs in the sky he gives us a grave/he plays with the serpents and dreams death comes as a master from Germany/your golden hair Margarete/your ashen hair Shulamith [play Paul]

I have supped full of horrors. And I am glad that my dish has been, largely, vicarious. My mind is not filled with the scorpions tyrants have to contend with nightly. C.S. Lewis, author of those innocent, those enabling fictions, the Narnia tales, also wrote The Screwtape Letters during the dark years of the Second World War. His readers, avid for more insights into the Satanic mind, were disappointed when he called it quits. He could no longer bear the burden of dwelling imaginatively in those dark regions. He feared for his very soul. And rightly so. Human life needs light and love and natural things and if this means a quotidian existence where one has to forgo the depths of Faustian knowledge and the heights of Elysian experience, then, so be it. Limits are, often, not so much limiting, as lifesaving, after all.

I think Carol Ann Duffy put it so well in her poem, Prayer– here’s an extract: Some days, although we cannot pray, a prayer/utters itself. So, a woman will lift/her head from the sieve of her hands and stare/at the minims sung by a tree, a sudden gift./Some nights, although we are faithless, the truth/enters our hearts, that small familiar pain/;then a man will stand stock-still, hearing his youth/in the distant Latin chanting of a train./ Although I cannot pray, a prayer uttered itself, when I started to remember a childhood, when I started to take a part in the childhood of my children, and, although I doubt I will be given the gift of participating in the childhood of my children’s children, I was content. I was set down in the middle of the twentieth century and I got out of it alive. [play Ballroom of Romance] [play Coda sting]

He is swaying to an internal music. Thankfully he is not dancing any more. And again, he paces and stops from time to time to take in the magical cityscape beyond the tall windows of his Manhattan apartment. He smiles at some thought he has had as he slowly walks back and forth in front of a scene that does not seem to tire him. Perhaps citizens, native to this city, have grown used to the impossible concatenation and arrangement of lights crammed into such a small space: but not our protagonist who has not been here for very long and, as we all know, won’t be here for very much longer. But then, when you come to think about it- which one of us can guarantee our here-ness in the very next instant?

Credits: All written text, song lyrics andmusic (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- Shure SM58; (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter); Apogee 76K also used for songs and spoken text

For recording and mixing down: 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used; Rubix 22 also used for mixing of microphone(s) and instruments. I use the Band in a Box/RealBand 2022 combo for music composition

Letters From Quotidia Episode 182 And Leave Him There Part 8

Letters From Quotidia Episode 182 And Leave Him There Part 8

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, Episode 182. The scene is a duplicate of the previous one. The apartment is empty, just the lights of Manhattan visible through the large picture windows. Now the lights come up as he re-enters, one of the motion-sensor switches has been engaged. He is carrying a guitar and its stand. The guitar is expensive, it has a translucent, shimmering blue finish. It is obviously a custom job. At long last able to indulge himself, he has jettisoned the entry-level boxes of his youth and early adulthood and now sets it down in front of his chair and sits back admiring it, lifting a book of poetry from the stand next to him. He begins to read. It is from The Man with the Blue Guitar by Wallace Stevens.

The man bent over his guitar,/A shearsman of sorts. The day was green./They said, “You have a blue guitar,/You do not play things as they are.”/The man replied, “Things as they are/Are changed upon the blue guitar.”/And they said then, “But play, you must,/A tune beyond us, yet ourselves,/A tune upon the blue guitar/Of things exactly as they are.”…/Ah, but to play man number one,/To drive the dagger in his heart,/To lay his brain upon the board/And pick the acrid colors out,/To nail his thought across the door,/Its wings spread wide to rain and snow,/To strike his living hi and ho/To tick it, tock it, turn it true,/To bang it from a savage blue/Jangling the metal of the strings…/So that’s life, then: things as they are?/It picks its way on the blue guitar./A million people on one string?/And all their manner in the thing,/And all their manner, right and wrong,/And all their manner, weak and strong?/The feelings crazily, craftily call,/Like a buzzing of flies in autumn air,/And that’s life, then: things as they are,/This buzzing of the blue guitar.//[play Let Them Not Fade Away]

But everything does fade. Even protons will evaporate at the dark, cold, close. Still, innocent and enabling fictions do keep entropy at bay- or maybe just seem to. As sunset started to fall on the twentieth century and the light began to fade, so did my eyesight. Advancing age may or may not bring sagacity, but it certainly brings illness. The body, now surplus to evolutionary requirements- procreation and nurturing of the next bunch completed- forgets to tell certain cells to switch on and forgets to tell others to switch off. Hence the proliferation of nose-hair and the thinning of bones. We become experts at our own demise. I thought it comical, years ago, watching my father and mother reading to one another the obituary columns of The Irish News, ticking off friends and acquaintances, deciding whether to send a Mass card, letter of condolence or go to the funeral. Etiquette in this matter was as precise and necessary as that of an Oriental court. My aunt, lying under her quilt covers, knowing death was a matter of weeks away, dictated to her hapless husband and children the minutiae of her passing, she didn’t want a shroud of traditional brown to be her final covering but one of cerulean blue. It was important, and it was done.

But death had no dominion in that fabled decade from the mid-fifties to mid-sixties in the fairy-tale that was an Aruban childhood. With the single exception of the native fisherman, so easily taken by the sea, I can bring to mind no other death. There must have been, of course, but in that dispensation that was Pax Americana, it was as if the triumph of the Dream had banished death. It was excusable that we felt this was the case- but that American foreign policy makers seemed to accept it as dogma too ensured that shortly after, the Dream collapsed in Vietnam. But then, risk-taking was de rigueur for us. Exploring caves and abandoned mines, climbing cliffs, racing cars and bikes, running down the sloped roof of the beach-hut at Rodgers Beach, leaping out and over ragged coral teeth and into water a couple of feet deep, turning in mid-air so that the sand didn’t break leg-bones but bruised, instead, the bones of our butt-cheeks- this was fun, fun, fun.

And as I cast back in memory, it is a solitary vision that now emerges from the deep- it seems so real that I can feel it kinaesthetically.  Am I floating? Above-ground pipes criss-crossed the colony. The island was composed of coral and rock, you see. The pipes carried water from the island’s desalination plant- a world class unit everyone was proud to boast- the pipes carried water into the houses built for the oil company executives. The pipes were paired- one for drinking water, one for brackish water. I loved to use the pipes as a highway, balancing effortlessly as barefoot I traversed the coral and cactus rough land that surrounded the houses and tended gardens of Seroe Colorado. Bare feet feeling the warmth of the sun, feeling the rush of liquid life.  I never fell off. Not once. Not once. Life was glorious light, but, and this is borrowed … shades of the prison-house began to close upon the growing boy. Now the light glows only in memory, and maybe brighter because of that. [play Everything Goes/Restless Paces]

The scientists are wrong. Just as we found out, some time ago, that the priests are wrong. The experts are wrong: the town planners, the educationalists, the pundits, the technologists- all wrong. Which makes me uncomfortable. The pharmaceutical companies, long the villains of the piece, have kept me alive for some years. At last count I consume eighteen different pills, ten in the morning and eight at night. To say nothing about the latest nauseating liquid concoction they are testing on me. To be beholden to those we despise is a delicious irony, wouldn’t you say? But why should they expect gratitude, after all, they have our money.

During one of my spells of unemployment, at the beginning of the eighties it was, I remember watching a documentary on the BBC. East German scientists, in the days when there were two Germanys, were performing experiments on rats to find a cure for homosexuality. And they were caricatures of what we imagine mad scientists to be; white coats, music-hall German-accented English, and steel-framed glinting glasses. I had been drinking at the time. I remember checking the TV guide next day to determine whether I had been hallucinating. And it was there. I didn’t feel reassured. If real-life was serving up stuff like this, then real-life was deeply pathological. No, I didn’t feel reassured at all. I always turn to the poets to tell me what is really real. Abba Kovner has this to say to me, to you, to everyone!

They’re wrong, the scientists. The universe wasn’t created/billions of years ago./The universe is created every day./The scientists are wrong to claim/the universe was created from one primordial/substance./The world is created every day/from various substances with nothing in common./Only the relative proportion of their masses,/like the elements of sorrow and hope,/make them companions/and curbstones. I’m sorry/I have to get up, in all modesty, and disagree/with what is so sure and recognised by experts:/that there is no speed faster than the speed of light,/when I and my lighted flesh/just noticed something else right here-/ whose speed is even greater than the speed of light/and which also returns,/ though not in a straight line, because of the curve of the universe/or because of the innocence of God./And if we connect all this to an equation, according to the rules, maybe/it will make sense that I refuse to believe that her voice/and everything I always cherished/and everything so real and suddenly/lost/is actually lost forever./  [play The Answer]

The expensive blue guitar is now held by our protagonist: will he play it? He knows how to hold it and his left hand is forming what looks like a chord-shape. Ah! He starts to finger-pick the instrument but- it’s a bit ordinary, and I wonder if it is the effect of  the various concoctions he has consumed or was he just never much good as a guitarist? Hard to say… But hold on, that sounds familiar! It can’t be! He wouldn’t dare, even in the secluded, elevated, and  isolated nest he has obtained high above Manhattan. Thank God! He has now abandoned- what seems to my disbelieving ears to be the intro to Stairway to Heaven! He rests his forehead on the headstock and grasps the neck with both hands. It is an affecting tableau. I think we should just leave him there, now, don’t you?  

Credits: All written text, song lyrics andmusic (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- Shure SM58; (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter); Apogee 76K also used for songs and spoken text

For recording and mixing down: 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used; Rubix 22 also used for mixing of microphone(s) and instruments. I use the Band in a Box/RealBand 2022 combo for music composition

Letters From Quotidia Episode 181 And Leave Him There 7

Letters From Quotidia Episode 181 And Leave Him There Part 7

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, Episode 181. If you recall, we left our protagonist sitting ruefully in his chair looking out the window and about to take a snooze. But the apartment is empty. Just the lights of Manhattan visible through the large picture windows. Now the lights come up as he re-enters, obviously one of those motion-sensor switches had been engaged. He is carrying a filled bread-roll in his hand. He eats ravenously as he paces back and forth, back, and forth. Finishing his nocturnal repast he licks his fingers, wipes them on his dressing gown and sits again to take in the view of the city.

The gun. I will not have one in my house. Even a replica to hang tastefully on the wall. Although I used to love them. Playing Cowboys and Indians, I wanted to be with the cowboys in every game because they had guns only- not those environmentally friendly, if deadly, bows and arrows. An early memory, before we returned to Aruba in the mid-fifties. The Irish News had an account of the dying gasp of the, then, latest occurrence of IRA insurgence. I cheered at the headline of a policeman being shot. Through the pores, you see… my father was outraged, and my mother joined in the deprecation of my childish glee. They had memories enough of the Black and Tans’ predations in Ireland in those grim years after the First World War and the rivers of blood that flowed in the forties.

Suitably chastened, I took care to conceal my love of that quintessentially twentieth century icon. In Aruba, borrowing American friends’ BB rifles, I was a crack shot, killing lizards and iguanas before my age was in double digits. Under the sea, I would impale reef fish with a rubber propelled spear-gun which I concealed under the house. Kids love blood. Some more than others. I remember being on the receiving end of a BB gun. We were down at Rodgers’ Field where we played baseball and soccer and held track meets. Steve Flaherty, the friend I mentioned earlier, had brought along a relative nicknamed Gordo who was visiting from the States; a gangly, bespectacled guy who had scabs on his arms that he picked at all the time.

We had Steve’s BB gun and were taking pot-shots at this and that. Steve dared me to climb one of the lighting poles that surrounded the field. Do kids still do that? Dare one another to do stupid things? Course they do. I stood on Steve’s shoulders and reached for the first metal rung, swung up and began the precarious ascent. The rungs were meant for adults rather than a runt like me. I reached the top and stood inside the lighting platform, arms raised in triumph. Ting! There was a noise, but I ignored it and started the even more precarious descent. Ting! Again, that noise.  Tingchik! I grabbed at my eye- was it a bee sting?

There was blood on my fingers, not much, but blood, nonetheless. I looked down. Steve was trying to take the BB gun from Gordo. Gordo just pushed him to the ground and raised the gun in my direction and pumped it for another shot. It took less than a couple of minutes for me to complete the descent, but it felt longer as, eyes tightly shut, a succession of BBs hit the pole, my arm, my neck,  my leg. I ran enraged towards Gordo, Steve just stood there looking stunned. I swung at Gordo, but he had a much longer reach and landed a punch that put me on my back, winded. “Why? Why?” I gasped, crying. “I wanted to see if I could make you fall”.  

Perhaps it was that episode, perhaps it was “the decade of love, man,” but I began to lose my zest for bloodletting in the sixties. On reflection, though, it may have had something to do with reality. In the summer of 1969, five years after returning to Ireland from Aruba, I was dreaming in the country, deep in the Glens of Antrim. Lazing the days away, reading Lord Byron and generally being an aesthete, I thought that it would be fun to be among the decadent boyos of the fin de siècle of Pater and Wilde and…I heard it on the radio. Bombay Street in Belfast had been burned out the night before. The latest instalment of the Troubles had begun in earnest. The college I had just completed my initial year of tertiary education at, in Andersonstown at the top of the Falls Road, Belfast, put out a call for volunteers. Emergency housing had to be found for those residents of the lower Falls who had the misfortune to live, at that interesting time, too close to the Shankill Road.

The civil service bureaucrats could not, or maybe would not, respond to the unprecedented demand. I packed a bag and caught the train to Belfast. Other students, too, had responded to the call. My psychology lecturer, at our initial briefing, told us solemnly that, first names were OK for the emergency but that the appropriate academic formalities would have to be maintained when lectures resumed in September. No buses then, all burned out, and barricades going up in all the streets, and Radio Free Belfast, and me, dazed by drink after trying to forget how I had to process, via forms that drain humanity, the sad detritus of lives caught in the terrible text of yet another colourful page of history. I remember walking late at night towards the centre of town, along the Donegall Road, past corrugated iron ramparts, knowing that I might be in the crosshairs of a gunsight. Knowing that it would be something more potent than a BB gun.

I wasn’t brave. Just, young, confused and, generally, drunk. Evacuating people from North Queen Street and running them in a shonky motor over unapproved roads and across the border to an Irish army camp in Donegal, I feared the B Specials, bogeymen to our generation as the Black and Tans had been to my parents. The next few years, a phantasmagoria. Who, but an optimist, or someone not terribly well in touch with the real, would marry? But I did, and rented a house, as a student, off the Whiterock Road. My wife pregnant, clambering over barricades to get to work, one day called into a corner shop and was pushed unceremoniously to the floor as a rubber bullet crashed through the pane of glass in the front door and ricocheted among the tinned goods. We had that rubber bullet as a memento on the mantelpiece for a while: I don’t know what happened to it.

I, protective husband that I was, remonstrated with the local women that night, that I would not let my wife go out on bin-lid duty- this was the early warning technology of the savvy citizens to warn the local brigade of British Army patrols, and she, returning to the corner shop the next day, encountering a wall of silence as she was motioned silently to the counter to buy her bread and milk and sugar. My propensity for daydreaming nearly killed me. I was walking through a back lane towards our digs from one of my last lectures, psychometrics I think it was, when I became cognisant of an alien voice.

A British soldier, my age, was pointing a gun at my head, shaking, as his hands clenched his SLR. I hadn’t heard his repeated calls to stop. I think what saved me from a beating, or worse, was my accent- not at all typical of Belfast- when I explained that my mind was elsewhere. Elsewhere, was Australia. Gunfire was in the air, as my father picked us up to take us for a few weeks back to the relative peace of the Glens of Antrim before we flew to the land of OZ. It was 1972.

Even there, the gun. I remember being with friends from Belfast, in the outback of New South Wales shortly after we had arrived. They were hunting feral pigs and kangaroos. I took with me a guitar, an orange box with rusty wires, really, and on the first day’s hunting, I was given, should I want to join in the sport, a .22 with a telescopic sight. A popgun, next to their more potent armaments. A feral sow broke cover: she was running heavily, sway-bellied with, with… and, as I raised the gun, I saw, through the scope, the dust pop off her flank as the larger rounds pierced her…

I have never fired or held a gun since that day. But others were not so squeamish. No, as the decades turned over, as the calendar pages spun away into time’s vortex the appetite for guns grew until, in Europe, which thought it had exorcised the demons from the Holocaust, a new horror called ethnic cleansing arose and Goran SImic captured it in his poem, The Calendar:

I heard the fall of a leaf from a calendar./It was the leaf for the month of March./The calendar belongs to a girl I know./She spends each day checking the calendar/and watching her belly grow./Whatever is in her womb/was nailed there by drunken soldiers in some camp./It is something that feeds/on terrible images and a terrible silence./What fills the images?/Her bloodstained dress, perhaps,/fluttering from a pole like a flag?/What breaks the silence?/The fall of the month of March?/The footstep of her tormentor- his face/the child’s face, the face she will see/every day, every month, every year/for the rest of her life?/I don’t know. I don’t know./All I heard was the fall of a leaf from a calendar./

Oh, yes…the nineties showed us a thing or two about barbarity and violence. And the strangest thing is: who cares? The victims; certainly, those who can still feel anything. Their family and friends, obviously. But for the rest of us- with a few exceptions of course- you perhaps?- it is all something happening in electronic space, which unlike the Newtonian construct, is not vast, empty and silent, for most part, but babbling and buzzing and bedazzling: a welter of sound and image and exhortation to buybuybuybuybuy…

I, meanwhile, was drifting on my raft, spinning in the choppy seas of that last turbulent decade, as my calendar pages dropped, year by year, waiting for a boat to appear to fish me from the confused waters. My raft, now, as then, an unlikely craft. Buoyed by my family, a few good friends, and flotation devices that I assert, though others may demur, saved my sanity: my guitar and literature and music. [play Oblivion Mountain]

What will he get up to next? I hope he does not charge around the apartment attempting a vigorous dance to exorcise the demons that seem to be cavorting about in his head. He looks around the apartment and seems to be looking for something. It is not here because he now exits stage left, but not, in this case, pursued by a bear, like the unfortunate Antigonous in Shakespeare’s late play The Winter’s Tale.

Credits: All written text, song lyrics andmusic (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- Shure SM58; (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter); Apogee 76K also used for songs and spoken text

For recording and mixing down: 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used; Rubix 22 also used for mixing of microphone(s) and instruments. I use the Band in a Box/RealBand 2022 combo for music composition