Letters From Quotidia Episode 53 How Did We Get This Way?

Letters From Quotidia How Did We Get This Way?

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

Entry 53: How Did We Get This Way?– Have you ever been young? Have you ever drunk the elixir of youth? Have you ever had the misfortune to have lived through that magical age- to come to the horrible dreams that feature death, disappointment, dreary realisation that this dreck is all just a shoddy illusion? In other words, have you ever grown older, wiser, more balanced, mature, philosophical and last, but not least, quietly resigned to the inevitability of decline that caused a young Welsh poet named Dylan Thomas to write in 1947, at the age Christ was crucified, the wonderful poem, Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night?

In an ageing demographic, where there is so much conversation-(oh, how I hate that word now! I can remember when the word meant a stress-free and friendly exchange between equals, but learning in this century that it means, instead, an amalgam of an inquisition and an accusation). But what about those advantages of being a senior citizen (all those really cheap rail passes and so on). I question why I was born into an epoch that failed to see that being young, strong and free was as good as it ever would ever get in our universe as presently constructed.

In 1975, I was raging in Wollongong, in my mid-twenties, and as good as ever I would get- in some ways, anyway. At that time, nearly ten years into my apprenticeship as a songwriter (part-time) and three years into my day job as a teacher at Warrawong High School, I reflected on aspects of my own life. I had a wife who was working, a daughter, just at school, and a son at pre-school. Finely attuned to the lives of my heroes, who were only a few years older that myself, I chafed under the restrictions that were an amalgam of futile hopes, a little knowledge and less ability, that would never, ever have amounted to much more that a pile of futile fantasies.

I can vaguely remember a drunken conversation in a toilet with a guy who took exception to something I had said earlier in the night at Collegians on our inaugural concert. Instead of sitting down with Robert Sheldon from The New York Times for a life-changing interview, I found myself placating this psycho who tried to insert himself into our embryonic folk band on the grounds that he was a great tambourine player. Then, fast-forward to another weekend, up in Sydney, where I bought Dylan’s Blood On The Tracks and sat drinking a coffee, reading the liner notes and knowing that there were several levels of existence between people like me and the guy from Minnesota who changed the world of popular music.

Then, later, of course, I listened to the album. Now, I could have just rushed up to the headland on which was situated the lighthouse at Wollongong and hurled myself over the cliff onto the colourful rocks below. Instead, I wrote this song. Guess what? A man who married in his early twenties to the love of his life, had two children in quick succession and had no clue as to what all of this meant and consequently got so much wrong, somehow had the temerity to put pen to paper and presume to engage in the whole process of telling the universe that, despite the preponderance of huge  pre-existing talent and random black holes and super-novae and whatever else the physicists and mathematicians can conjure out of the numbers, that here is something that is worth telling.

I can remember, too, trying to make a deal with the universe when I knew, in 1964, that I was leaving the paradise that was Aruba, to return to an unknown quantity that was the Ireland of the mid- 1960s. I tried (not for the only time) to make a deal with God. I knew, as a good Catholic, that I was irremediably sinful but I made a pact at 13 years of age that I would take all the crap coming to me right now, and, in return, much later, have the pleasures of beatification. What a crock. It took decades for me to realise that there had been a marvellous and easily available cornucopia that was sitting there in plain sight that was as clear as the heavens above.

As I looked out over the lagoon to the distant mountains of Venezuela I did not realise, then, that I was witnessing the light-show of Catatumbo lightning which is a unique meteorological phenomenon high up in the storm clouds providing a spectacular sight for those close to it and which can be seen up to 500 kilometres away in Aruba, where, as a young boy, I witnessed the flashes of silent light and thought nothing of it. To learn that it was a unique meteorological event more than fifty years after observing it just reinforces the idea that we really don’t know very much at all. So, I hope you forgive me from shouting at the top of my voice: “For God’s sake, remember why we are here on this good earth: Do not go gentle into that good night… Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” [insert song]

The Kings- BB and Albert, Jack White, and that fine Irish folk group, The Dubliners, find a refuge in the 54th Letter From Quotidia. Seamus Heaney reminds us that we are all ambassadors from the Republic of Conscience. Rudyard Kipling, a somewhat overlooked and underestimated poet, gives his grimly sardonic take on the parable of The Prodigal Son, while over in the corner of the pub we see the narrator giving a boozy rendition of The Wild Rover. So if you need refuge from the craziness of where you are, come to Quotidia where your visa will be issued without charge and you cannot outstay your welcome.

Credits: All written text, song lyrics and music (including background music) written and composed by Quentin Bega unless otherwise specified in the credits section after individual posts. Illustrative excerpts from other texts identified clearly within each podcast. I donate to and use Wikipedia frequently as one of the saner sources of information on the web.

Technical Stuff: Microphone- (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter)

Microphone (for many of the songs) Shure SM58

For recording and mixing down 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used

Music accompaniment and composition software- Band-in-a-Box and RealBand 2020 as well as- for some 20 of the songs of year 2000 vintage- I used a Blue Mountains, NSW, studioApproximately 48 Banter folk songs and instrumentals recorded live (“in the round”) with a ThinkPad laptop using the inbuilt mic.

Letters From Quotidia Postcards Edition 13

Letters From Quotidia Postcards Edition 13

Letters from Quotidia Postcards Edition 13

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, the Postcards edition, number 13, a podcast by Quentin Bega where you will hear Banter, a traditional Irish folk group from Sydney’s outer west, present four tunes and songs drawn from the traditions of the English-speaking world. And, as always, Quotidia is that space, that place, where ordinary people lead ordinary lives. But where, from time to time, they encounter the extraordinary.

Two Irish Tunes. In 1974 , my wife bought me a small round-backed mandolin I lusted after from the music shop at the top of  Crown Street, Wollongong. I started plinking on it and after a time found that I could string the notes of these hornpipes together fairly accurately.  Of course, I slavishly followed the example of The Dubliners from a record of theirs which I played repeatedly to get the gist of the tunes. When Seannachie formed, I duetted with the gun mando player from that group- one Bertie McKnight- and for the next few years it became a staple of our performances. When the group, Banter, re-formed (again) just a few months ago, I re-introduced the hornpipes to the group. Why we hadn’t played them before remains one of life’s little mysteries because they are great tunes. Anyway, in this formation, I play guitar while the tunes are carried aloft by father and son on mandolin and fiddle respectively as the group’s main singer batters away on bodhran to mark the tempo. [insert tunes]

A Nation Once Again. Thomas Davis, one of the main shapers of Irish identity, wrote this stirring ballad in the 1840s, making it one of the early Irish folk songs. He believed that songs were more effective than political harangues. It is notable for its classical references: for example, the 300 men  of the song’s first verse recalls the valiant Spartans at the battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC who, while losing their lives in defence of ancient Greece, laid the foundations of the classical period and all its glories- of which we are the fortunate beneficiaries. While some of the references may be alien to listeners in the 21st Century, the meaning (and emotion) of the song contained in the choruses is unmistakable.  [insert song]

Three Score and Ten. The events depicted in the song date to 1889 when fifteen fishing vessels and seventy or more men and boys were lost in storms off the Yorkshire coast. No one knows, definitively, who wrote the original song, but I agree with the sentiments I read somewhere that the song belongs to the people of the fishing ports and the families who suffered losses to the North Sea gales that have taken so many. Three score and ten, of course, is a trope for the length of human life. The magnificent King James Version expresses in Psalm 90, The days of our years are threescore years and ten;/ and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years,/ yet is their strength labour and sorrow;/ for it is soon cut off, and we fly away. [insert song]

Liverpool Lou. The Liverpool folk/poetry band The Scaffold produced a version of Behan’s song “Liverpool Lou” in 1974 which became a top 10 hit in the UK and spawned covers in various languages across Europe. On the original Scaffold pressing, the writing credits were incorrectly attributed to Paul McCartney who had produced the record on behalf of his brother Mike McGear.

Behan advised the relevant authorities and had his rights to the song reinstated quickly, receiving an apology from McCartney; Behan accepted McCartney’s explanation that his mother had sung the song and he thought it was a traditional work. Later pressings of the song were then correctly credited to Behan; the early McCartney-labelled pressings are particularly rare and collectible.

In a well-publicised interview, John Lennon dismissed the 1960s folk scene in his own country, describing it as “College students with pints of beer going hay-nonny nonny” but in the same breath, he praised Behan, from neighbouring Ireland, whom he said he liked. On Desert Island Discs in 2007, Yoko Ono selected Behan’s “Liverpool Lou” as her husband had sung it to their son as a lullaby. [notes above taken from that wonderful site, Wikipedia- donate, if you can.]One of Banter’s main singers, Jim, usually fields this one, but, because of COVID restrictions in force here in Sydney, guess who ends up singing it on this release? By the way, I’ve recorded, more than one of the songs that are rightfully Jim’s or Sam the Man’s but I don’t know if I want to give them back now…[insert song]

The 14th Postcard will start with a reel to kick off an exploration in song of three  port cities of the British Isles on the Irish Sea: Belfast, Dublin and Liverpool via the fine compositions, McClory featuring Sam, Cross Me Heart, featuring Jim, and Whiskey on a Sunday, featuring me.

Credits: All written text, song lyrics and music (including background music) written and composed by Quentin Bega unless otherwise specified in the credits section after individual posts. Illustrative excerpts from other texts identified clearly within each podcast. I donate to and use Wikipedia frequently as one of the saner sources of information on the web.

Technical Stuff: Microphone- (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter)

Microphone (for many of the songs) Shure SM58

For recording and mixing down 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used

Music accompaniment and composition software– Band-in-a-Box and RealBand 2020 as well as- for some 20 of the songs of year 2000 vintage- I used a Blue Mountains, NSW, studioApproximately 48 Banter folk songs and instrumentals recorded live (“in the round”) with a ThinkPad laptop using the inbuilt mic.

Letters From Quotidia Episode 52 My Good Friend Joe

Letters From Quotidia My Good Friend Joe

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

Entry 52: My Good Friend Joe- Felix Randal the farrier, O is he dead then? my duty all ended,/Who have watched his mould of man, big-boned and hardy-handsome/Pining, pining, till time when reason rambled in it, and some/Fatal four disorders, fleshed there, all contended? This portrait of a blacksmith from the late 19th Century written in 1880 by the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins was the inspiration of a song I wrote 120 years later.

I did not replicate the Italian sonnet structure or rhyme scheme, I did not replicate the tender pastor/parishioner relationship obtaining in the poem, I did not replicate the subtle theology of the original- I did not even replicate the fact that the subject of the poem had ceased to be! To be frank- all I did was steal a feeling, sense of mortality, a realisation that we are all leaves trembling on the tree of life. False pretences you may shriek. False? No! Pretences- now that is a different matter! All that I know is that the song’s first line blossomed in my head one night in 2000. Oh is he gone, my good friend Joe, we played in a band…

The latest band I had helped to form was in abeyance and I was hungry for an outlet for…what? Let’s use the word, energy instead of creativity– which sounds way too pretentious. I guess I was reflecting on my journey as a musician over the past thirty- odd years. When I first arrived in Australia, I sought out familiar faces and accents, as all migrants do. In 1973 I was invited to a St Patrick’s do at Collegians club in Wollongong. By that time I had had a few months to find my feet and I made a few contacts among the Irish contingent on the South Coast.

We climbed the stairs to the upper room where trestle tables covered with crepe paper were laid out. The entertainment was…puzzling; an Italian chap with a nice big shiny accordion picked out a few anodyne tunes, among which were a few ersatz Oirish songs written for Hollywood B-movies. I was not happy. Now, I don’t blame the accordion player- he was just gigging. But that anyone would think that this was a celebration of Irish culture just made me gag. So I decided to make sure that the next St Paddy’s day would be more…what? Irish, that’s what I decided. The result was the formation of Seanachie which started to play in a local hotel, as well as cafes and art galleries in the Illawarra- and eventually even played as far afield as Sydney and the Snowy Mountains.

We were OK, thanks, in part, to Joe who had played guitar in various bands in and about Strabane, Northern Ireland. Along with him was his mate Bertie who was a wiz on the mandolin as well as a whistle player, Johnny. The main singer was a Londoner of Irish descent called Tony. I was a bit of a Jack of all trades, playing a bit of guitar, banjo, mandolin, bodhran and whistle which I was struggling to learn that year. We weren’t quite ready for a full concert and our first appearance at Collegians was, shall we say, a limited success- limited, that is, to our loved ones who were determined not to rub too much salt into the wounds.

We did get better, but who wants to hear about success. You know, nothing is really ever old. In 1990, I was appalled on St Patrick’s Day, in a club in north Queensland, to hear the wife of a big car dealer in the Burdekin making mockery of the Irish accent as she performed what can only be described as a “blackface” rendition of The Spinning Wheel. She meant well, of course. And I classify her as a kindred spirit of Ruby Turpin in Flannery O’Connor’s short story, Revelation.

We may talk about sickness in the soul or the spirit but nothing concentrates the mind so much as imminent and grave threats to the body.Illness struck down Felix Randal, the hulking blacksmith, who had gloried in his physical size and strength. The diminutive Jesuit priest, Hopkins, provided pastoral and sacramental care for the dying man, Sickness broke him. Impatient, he cursed at first, but mended/Being anointed and all…/Ah well, God rest him all road ever he offended! Interestingly, the final images of the poem are not of decay, darkness and death but show Felix Randal in his glory days or, as Hopkins puts it,…all thy more boisterous years,/When thou at the random grim forge, powerful amidst peers,/Didst fettle for the great grey dray horse his bright and battering sandal!

As I said at the outset, my song does not try to emulate the linguistic and sonic adventures of the sonnet. Indeed, it is a funeral song without a corpse. Joe is still living, as far as I am aware. It may come to pass that we will again have time to meet somewhere far down the coast, near Eden, where we will fish from the beach and watch the waves roll in from the South Pacific and later, with fortune providing us with a couple of flathead, we will drink and chat about old times over a fish barbecue as the sun goes down. [insert song My Good Friend Joe]

Letter 53 will be winging its way to you next week. As per usual, tomorrow’s offering is the 13th Postcard and will be all about folk music. But, on visiting Quotidia next Monday, you will be admonished not to go gently into that good night. What else will be revealed? That clueless would be a good title for the narrator’s life in the mid-seventies; and that a meteorological phenomenon witnessed over fifty years beforehand only serves to remind… that we don’t really know very much at all. I’ll see you all then, between the lightning flashes.

Credits: All written text, song lyrics and music (including background music) written and composed by Quentin Bega unless otherwise specified in the credits section after individual posts. Illustrative excerpts from other texts identified clearly within each podcast. I donate to and use Wikipedia frequently as one of the saner sources of information on the web.

Technical Stuff: Microphone- (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter)

Microphone (for many of the songs) Shure SM58

For recording and mixing down 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used

Music accompaniment and composition software- Band-in-a-Box and RealBand 2020 as well as- for some 20 of the songs of year 2000 vintage- I used a Blue Mountains, NSW, studioApproximately 48 Banter folk songs and instrumentals recorded live (“in the round”) with a ThinkPad laptop using the inbuilt mic.

Letters From Quotidia Episode 51 Strange Meeting

Letters From Quotidia Strange Meeting

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

Our 51st letter details a poetic strange meeting. We meet a formidable cleric as he prepares to chastise a bone-idle student and a bunch of student revellers some decades later as they return to their digs in Manchester. Almost sixty years ago, I was required to memorise Dulce et Decorum est as part of my English homework. While I would love to report that I did so grudgingly- but have lived to cherish the imposition forever- that assertion would be less than truthful. I neglected that piece of homework (and several others, if I am being dragged to the truth.) My English teacher banished me to the study hall during his lessons.

By some unexplained protocol, I should have begged forgiveness and then been re-admitted to the sanctuary of learning that was, in fact, Mr Leahy’s wonderfully enlightening classroom. But it didn’t happen. Being a “newbie”, to use an anachronistic American locution, (and why not, seeing as I was not long returned from Aruba and a US educational system,) I kept on reporting to the study hall for a few weeks. The College President (this was the title given to the Principal of the establishment) found out, somehow, that I was languishing in the study hall, out of class, and sent for me.

By this time, I knew that the gradations of punishment tended to increase in direct proportion to the status of the personage one would have to confront- so you can imagine the fearfulness with which I approached the imposing presidential door. Big Bill, or more formally, Father William Tumelty, gruffly interrogated me about my sojourn in the study hall. I knew, from rugby training that on the northern edge of the college grounds due east of the pitches and piggery, on a knoll overlooking the Sea of Moyle, was a photogenic replication of Golgotha. I was in no doubt that I would be nailed up there as a warning to other recalcitrant avoiders of homework. Did I cry? No. At that age, and, with just a few weeks of learning that you were a snivelling suck-up if you reacted to the cane, I resorted to the age-old student defence of limitless ignorance- helped, of course, by the truth that it was not really forced.

So, I was returned to class, Big Bill having determined that I was little more than a blithering idiot and therefore having been punished sufficiently by just being myself. A lucky escape, I told myself. And, while I never actually memorised the great poem, Dulce et Decorum et cetera, I grew to love the poetry of Wilfred Owen. One of the most moving, for me, was Strange Meeting, which details the meeting in Hades of two opposing soldiers. The masterful handling of pararhyme creates a haunting, otherworldly soundscape as we follow one of the protagonists deep into the underworld and feel his dislocation as he comes upon one who leaps up With piteous recognition in fixed eyes,/Lifting distressful hands, as if to bless./And by his smile, I knew that sullen hall,/ By his dead smile I knew we stood in Hell. “Strange friend,” I said, “here is no cause to mourn.” /“None,” said that other, “save the undone years,/The hopelessness. Whatever hope is yours,/Was my life also; I went hunting wild/After the wildest beauty in the world,/Which lies not calm in eyes, or braided hair,/But mocks the steady running of the hour…

That Wilfred Owen, at the age of 25, could write such poetry- poetry that would bear comparison with his compatriots, Keats and Shelley, is one of the great treasures of literature, and one of the great tragedies; that, like the incomparable Keats and Shelley, he would perish, like them, still in his twenties. “I am the enemy you killed, my friend./I knew you in this dark: for so you frowned/Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed./I parried; but my hands were loath and cold./Let us sleep now. . . .” The pity of war– that phrase is found in the poem and has been engraved in hearts and minds in the decades since it was written. The title would form the germ of an idea for a song I would write fifteen years later. As a teacher now myself, at Ballymena Academy, having recently returned from Australia, I formed an easy relationship with a bunch of students who were interested in music and had won through to the finals of a UK music contest being held in Manchester.

They asked the powers that be that I accompany them to the contest. I can remember workshopping lyrics with them in the bus to the airport- they were still short one original composition for the contest. Typical students- but they had won through to a prestigious, nationwide event, where one of the judges was John Entwhistle of The Who. And they were placed fourth- not bad for a little pickup school band from Northern Ireland. The pressure of the process helped me to write the song at the end of this entry. We were in digs in Manchester University and I sat up with my notepad and guitar and, while the band were out clubbing in central Manchester, I struggled with the lyrics and chords and finally, about 4:00 am, finished, just about when the student revellers were returning. [insert song Strange Meeting]

For letter 52 we will have a look at a blacksmith’s life as a fable for mortality. We will visit the Collegians Club in Wollongong in the early seventies and witness the genesis of an Irish Folk group. And finally, how would you like to have a funeral song written about you while you are still hale and hearty? In Quotidia, such things are far from unusual, so, pandemic restrictions allowing, hop aboard the coach which will deliver you to the Terrapin Station.

Credits: All written text, song lyrics and music (including background music) written and composed by Quentin Bega unless otherwise specified in the credits section after individual posts. Mark Dougherty has a co-writer credit for the song Strange Meeting. Illustrative excerpts from other texts identified clearly within each podcast. I donate to and use Wikipedia frequently as one of the saner sources of information on the web.

Technical Stuff: Microphone- (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter)

Microphone (for many of the songs) Shure SM58

For recording and mixing down 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used

Music accompaniment and composition software- Band-in-a-Box and RealBand 2020 as well as- for some 20 of the songs of year 2000 vintage- I used a Blue Mountains, NSW, studioApproximately 48 Banter folk songs and instrumentals recorded live (“in the round”) with a ThinkPad laptop using the inbuilt mic.

Letters From Quotidia Episode 50 Since You Walked Out of My Life

Since You Walked Out of My Life

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

Entry 50: Since You Walked Out of My Life- This song would have been the subject of entry one had this journal been organised chronologically according to date of song composition. But it’s fifty! And if I wind the clock back fifty-odd years (and very odd they have proved to be too!), I see a gawky, 16-year old with acne and a cheap guitar trying to impress his girl-friend (now wife) with his prowess on the fretboard. This is made rather difficult by the high action and rusting strings of the instrument and low degree of skill of the guitar’s owner. The high action made it difficult to hold down the chords with any facility or, indeed, accuracy and the teenage show-off made much of his ability to play runs on the top two strings (the thinnest of the bunch) that made a modicum of musical sense.

Being a mid-teen and therefore very cynical and worldly-wise I cracked on that I was beyond the appreciation of country music having thrown my lot in with the Stones, Beatles, Who and any rock or pop act that was current. Acts from my younger and more foolish life, shared with parents and older siblings, such as Hank Williams, Jim Reeves, Marty Robbins and Johnny Cash were thoroughly scorned and discounted. Strange, then, that my first composition was recognisably of just that despised genre. It was a parody, yes, and, as it turns out, incomplete, for I had only the first section, lyrically and musically, when first I flashed my song-writing credentials to my mildly amused partner.

It took another dozen years to add a couple of sections to make it more than a fragment. So what made me return to the abhorred artefact time and time again? Not a rhetorical question, by the way: I really don’t know. Not entirely. In the mid-sixties, confusion reigned in my world and on my horizons. In my English classroom, under the magisterial Mr Leahy, I was struggling to find anything of interest in L.P. Hartley’s The Go-Between. More people know the opening line of the novel than anything at all of what transpires in that work of fiction; all together now: The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.

They certainly did at Garron Tower, the colloquial name for St MacNissi’s College, a Catholic grammar school, situated on a plateau approximately 200 feet above the famous Antrim Coast Road overlooking the North Channel and out towards Scotland and the Mull of Kintyre. Built as a summer residence by Frances Anne Vane, Marchioness of Londonderry in the style of an English castle, the  property was acquired by the Catholic Bishop of Down and Connor in 1950 for use as a boarding school for boys as part of a long-term strategy for combating the sectarian stranglehold on higher education by the Protestant ascendancy of the Northern Ireland state-let, which had been established in 1921.

I notice in one of the posts about the place that it was compared to Hogwarts.  Mmm. Perhaps…it seems to have been magically co-located in time and space because there are two wildly divergent narratives about my Alma Mater: one upholds a glowing testament to the saying that schooldays are the best days of your life and another that would, if verifiable, be the subject of judicial sanctions of the graver kinds.

I know that when I arrived there in 1964 as a boarder, from my expatriate American Junior High School in Aruba I was shocked by the regimentation, bullying and corporal punishment that were par for the course. However, I survived because I became a day-boy in 1965 when my parents returned from overseas and, in any case, I threw my lot in with the smokers, gamblers and drinkers who formed their own protective clique.

Now, like Leo Colston, the protagonist of The Go-Between, I am in my mid-sixties, looking through my old things, awakening strange memories from that foreign country. A faded photograph sparks a sudden recollection: a winter scene from 1964 of a bunch of us meeting at a secluded spot, after dinner and before study. It is dusk: we are surrounded by trees. There is a headstone marking the resting place of Urisk, the faithful dog of the original owner, the Marchioness of Londonderry.

It reads, in part, Deaf to all else his mistress’ voice he knew, Blind though he was, his step to her was true. So strong an instinct by affection fed, Endured till Urisk’s vital spirit fled. Stoop grandeur from thy throne ye sons of pride, To whom no want is known, nor wish denied. A moment pause, and blush, if blush you can, To find in dogs more virtue than in man. And share, ‘midst all your luxury and pelf’, one thought for others out of ten for self’.

We light our cigarettes, cupping them in our covert hands, thinking that we have fooled the patrolling priests who amble below, as if in prayer, around the circular path in front of the imposing façade of the College, past the seven cannon pointing out over the North Channel at the future. [insert song Since You Walked Out of My Life]

In Letter 51 you are invited to share in the trepidation felt by a quivering school-boy as he awaits the judgement of a stern cleric and wonder anew how the locus of terror can also be a picture-postcard idyll. If you are partial to lies, then you may wish to cloak them in Latin, such as- Dulce et decorum est, pro patria mori. If you’re really just visiting Quotidia for the music, that’s fine too. You’ll hear a song about a man who walks into a bar and meets his future self- but doesn’t realise it until much, much later.

Credits: All written text, song lyrics and music (including background music) written and composed by Quentin Bega unless otherwise specified in the credits section after individual posts. Illustrative excerpts from other texts identified clearly within each podcast. I donate to and use Wikipedia frequently as one of the saner sources of information on the web.

Technical Stuff: Microphone- (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter)

Microphone (for many of the songs) Shure SM58

For recording and mixing down 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used

Music accompaniment and composition software– Band-in-a-Box and RealBand 2020 as well as- for some 20 of the songs of year 2000 vintage- I used a Blue Mountains, NSW, studioApproximately 48 Banter folk songs and instrumentals recorded live (“in the round”) with a ThinkPad laptop using the inbuilt mic.

Letters From Quotidia Episode 49 Old Fool

Letters From Quotidia Episode 49 Old Fool

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

In the 49th letter from Quotidia, fools have the run of the place- but not without consequence. The Ediacarans ruled the roost for 100 million years or so. And a certain Mrs Turpin thought she was queen of the town until she had a book thrown at her. Just as we need our outlaws, we need our fools. How else could we avoid despair at being the scrapings of the barrel, the lowest of the rungs and the humblest of doormats? In our efforts to avoid relegation to the bottom we may, of course, have missed our apotheosis. So, then, who are our fools? Let’s start early, before memory, before humanity- a long distance in the past.

Let us meet the Ediacarans. They arose 600 million years ago, ruling the earth; like us, multicellular entities that lived by absorbing nutrients from their surroundings. They prospered in their Garden of Ediacara for untold eons, in their fool’s paradise until…well, until the Cambrian explosion- a 25-million-year event that saw the arrival of most of the modern animal families: vertebrates, molluscs, arthropods, sponges and jellyfish.

All that remains of the Ediacarans are delicate imprints of their fossilised shapes preserved in sand or ash that look, in miniature, like spinning galaxies, far off in interstellar space. Our fools, in evolutionary terms, then, are those fossilised images which remind us of the spiral galaxies turning relentlessly in the unreachable universe beyond. What rendered them mere remnants was the arrival of entities that did not just passively attach themselves to a rock and suck life from the surrounding environment. Things that could move independently and sustain themselves by eating other organisms began to roam around the Garden of Ediacara.

The rest is history, as they say. Some say we are within a few generations of joining the Ediacarans because of the rise of intelligent machines. A.I. is the sexiest new frontier according to some, and our worst nightmare, according to others. But, in the interregnum, I would like to celebrate humanity and its combination of wisdom and folly, laughter and grief.

The Bible has quite a lot to tell us about wisdom and folly: Proverbs 16:16 reminds us,How much better to get wisdom than gold, to choose understanding rather than silver! So, then, what choices have you made? If that is awkward, how about what Proverbs 18:7 has to say, a fool’s mouth is his ruin, and his lips are a snare to his soul.  Listening, shock jocks? Of course not! Too much gold and silver on offer!

Truth’s a dog must to kennel; he must be whipp’d out, when Lady the brach may stand by th’ fire and stink. Oh, yes. Shakespeare, as usual, puts it best. The Fool in King Lear is one of the glories of world literature, Have more than thou showest,/ Speak less than thou knowest,/ Lend less than thou owest,/ Ride more than thou goest,/ Learn more than thou trowest,/Set less than thou throwest. This is not folly, but wise advice.

A faithful servant of the beleaguered king, the Fool knows that the old ways are under threat and says, I would fain learn to lie. King Lear, using the royal we, replies, An you lie, sirrah, we’ll have you whipp’d. The fool, seeing more clearly than any of those around him retorts, I marvel what kin thou and thy daughters are. They’ll have me whipp’d for speaking true; thou’lt have me whipp’d for lying; and sometimes I am whipp’d for holding my peace. I had rather be any kind o’ thing than a fool! And yet I would not be thee, nuncle. Indeed, who would want to be Lear as he faced the destruction of everything he had known and believed. Fools, and other damaged individuals, have licence to speak the unspeakable truth to the mightiest in the land, even though they may face whipping or worse.

Flannery O’Connor’s short story, Revelation, set, initially, in a doctor’s waiting room features Mrs Ruby Turpin, who is a complacent and pious hypocrite, certain of her own rightness and assured of her throne among the celestial throng. As she converses with others in the waiting room she is somewhat disconcerted by the intensity with which a young female student, who is prone to psychotic episodes, looks at her. Then, without warning, she throws a book at Mrs Turpin, hitting her over the eye; she then launches herself at the corpulent woman attempting to strangle her. She is subdued by the doctor and nurse and injected with a sedative.

The stunned Mrs Turpin approaches the supine girl: There was no doubt in her mind that the girl did know her, know her in some intense and personal way, beyond time and place and condition. “What you got to say to me?” she asked hoarsely and held her breath, waiting, as for a revelation. The girl raised her head. Her gaze locked with Mrs. Turpin’s. “Go back to hell where you came from, you old wart hog,” she whispered.

The words resonate in her with prophetic force and she has a vision that evening on her property at sunset where she sees a vast procession of those she considered beneath her leaping and shouting as they made their way up to heaven-ahead of the likes of Mrs Turpin. If you are an old fool like me, then this song should resonate. If not, wait a while until you qualify. [insert song]

The next letter- numbered the big five-oh tumbles us backwards in time to a pimple-popping teenage boy trying to impress his girlfriend with his guitar and songwriting chops and to his faux castle boarding school overlooking the North Channel of the Irish Sea. We may be affected by the sentiments of the Marchioness of Londonderry for her faithful dog, Urisk inscribed on a large stone marker, which the narrator and his mates used as a meeting place for a surreptitious smoke after supper. So, if you are a slave to nicotine, bring a furtive fag to our meeting place in Quotidia.

Lyrics to the song Old Fool

A, E, D, Bm etc

I’m often told that no fool compares to an old fool

And I concede this rule of thumb applies to me

Since I could walk I’ve fallen down

Since I could talk my foot in mouth

I toss the coin call heads and tails- it lands on its edge

I have been called a multitude of painful names

I won’t detain you long as I recite, as I recall for you this hurtful litany

You are a meathead, sucker, sap, a drongo dupe, a Charlie chump,

You zany rogue, you fathead goose, you waste of space

Get on your bike boy hit the road out of my sight now sling your hook

I’ve had the book thrown at me so many times

I am immune from all your looks of deep disdain

I can absorb your sneers and calumnies, the libels and the lies with equanimity 

Philosophers are grave and gray the troubadours sing sweet and gay

The lovers swoon, the soldiers fight, in to the night

Professors teach the clergy preach, the business men they buy and sell

While doctors seek to make us well-

(music interlude)

From shadowland I watch the band of motley as it passes by

The carousel, the spinning top- the whirligig

I’m often told that no fool compares to an old fool

And I concede this rule of thumb applies to me…

Applies to me, applies to you

Credits: All written text, song lyrics and music (including background music) written and composed by Quentin Bega unless otherwise specified in the credits section after individual posts. Illustrative excerpts from other texts identified clearly within each podcast. I donate to and use Wikipedia frequently as one of the saner sources of information on the web.

Technical Stuff: Microphone- (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter)

Microphone (for many of the songs) Shure SM58

For recording and mixing down 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used

Music accompaniment and composition software- Band-in-a-Box and RealBand 2020 as well as- for some 20 of the songs of year 2000 vintage- I used a Blue Mountains, NSW, studioApproximately 48 Banter folk songs and instrumentals recorded live (“in the round”) with a ThinkPad laptop using the inbuilt mic.

Letters From Quotidia Postcards Edition 12

Postcards From Quotidia 12

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, the Postcards edition, number 12, a podcast by Quentin Bega where you will hear Banter, a traditional Irish folk group from Sydney’s outer west, present four tunes and songs drawn from the traditions of the English-speaking world. And, as always, Quotidia is that space, that place, where ordinary people lead ordinary lives. But where, from time to time, they encounter the extraordinary.

The Triumphant and Centenary Marches: Much played at Irish ceilis in past decades. These occasions were social gatherings in rural areas, especially, of Ireland and Scotland featuring folk dances of various kinds, accompanied by tea and biscuits. These gatherings were displaced by dances featuring showbands and fizzy soft drinks which were in turn displaced by discos and recreational drugs which were in turn displaced by dating sites and sexting on digital media. But enough of this potted and probably wildly inaccurate social history! Anyhow, in a world of alternative facts and such-like, we enjoy playing the music of the traditional ceili even though its cultural milieu is, alas, long gone- except in a few recusant venues- God bless ’em… [insert tunes]  

A Bunch of Thyme– Christy Moore popularised this song, which originates in the north of England, as far as I know. Of course, by the time it had made the rounds of the pubs of Ireland it became a naturalised member of the Irish Song Tradition. Many people listen to it and only hear a pleasant melody and overlook the dark lyrics: The rose that never will decay that the sailor gives to the maid is likely syphilis, for which there was no cure in the 17th Century where the song, most likely, originates. Banter have sung this song for decades now, and really don’t care where the song came from. And, anyway, the English have stolen plenty from us, so…Jim steals it back here, once again.

Whiskey in the Jar– Rock groups seem to like this one (Thin Lizzy, Metallica, et al). There’s something about the shape of the melody that appeals widely. This would be another song that was much requested when we played in the time before COVID. The idea of the overlooked or inconsequential person sticking it to the Establishment has been a trope since Adam was a lad, I’ll wager. It appeals to Banter and, to be topical for a moment, it appealed to many millions of Americans when they voted for the outsider in the election a couple of days ago. Who will get stuck with the more dire consequences, if any, following this result, one muses? Well, I made those notes to the song back in November 2016 and by now you will have made up your own mind about the wisdom or folly of the decision of the American people. And, as I update these notes for this twelfth postcard on Boxing Day 2020, it is still not apparent if the present incumbent of the White House will belatedly concede. At any rate, Sam the man sings the song that celebrates the skulduggery of the highwayman and his attempts to flee the consequences of his action. [insert song]

“(The) Leaving of Liverpool” (Roud 9435), Folklorists classify it as a lyrical lament and it was also used as a sea shanty, especially at the capstan. It is very well known in Britain, Ireland, and America, despite the fact that it was collected only twice, from the Americans Richard Maitland and Captain Patrick Tayluer. Maitland said he learned “The Leaving of Liverpool” from a Liverpudlian on board the General Knox around 1885. His version has the narrator leave Liverpool to be a professional sailor aboard a historical clipper ship, the David Crockett, under a real-life captain, Captain Burgess. This would date his version to between 1863, when John A. Burgess first sailed the David Crockett out of Liverpool, and 1874, when Burgess died at sea.  Tayluer said that he believed the song originated during the Gold Rush, in 1849, and that it concerned a person leaving Liverpool to strike it rich in California and then return. 

“The Leaving of Liverpool” has been recorded by many popular folk singers and groups since the 1950s. The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem had a top 10 hit with the song in Ireland in 1964. The song has also been adapted by several artists, most notably The Dubliners and The Pogues. (The above info from the wonderful trove of stuff in Wikipedia. Donate to it, as I do, because it is worth preserving as one of the saner sources of knowledge among what you get on other free sites.)

I first heard the song in the mid-1960s from a Clancy Brothers record belonging to my parents. I have had a handwritten version of the lyrics in my song folder for over a quarter of a century and in all that time I have not sung it in public, nor has any of the group, Banter. Don’t ask me why, as it’s a great song. Maybe it is because it got over-sung and over-played in the folk revival in the British Isles in the 60s and 70s? In any event, I was sitting in lockdown and happened across it as I was going through my folder. I think it deserves another airing- even though dozens of examples of the song are extant out there. I treat it as a lament, rather than the lustier versions that have been favoured by some artists. [insert song]

In our next postcard you’ll hear a couple of hornpipes, a patriotic song dating from the 1840s, a song in memory of scores of fishermen lost in a storm off the Yorkshire coast in February 1889. So, put on your wet-weather gear and we’ll set sail for Quotidia for our encounter with the 13th postcard. Best take a good-luck charm.  

Credits: All written text, song lyrics and music (including background music) written and composed by Quentin Bega unless otherwise specified in the credits section after individual posts. Illustrative excerpts from other texts identified clearly within each podcast. I donate to and use Wikipedia frequently as one of the saner sources of information on the web.

Technical Stuff: Microphone- (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter)

Microphone (for many of the songs) Shure SM58

For recording and mixing down 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used

Music accompaniment and composition software- Band-in-a-Box and RealBand 2020 as well as- for some 20 of the songs of year 2000 vintage- I used a Blue Mountains, NSW, studioApproximately 48 Banter folk songs and instrumentals recorded live (“in the round”) with a ThinkPad laptop using the inbuilt mic.

Letters From Quotidia Episode 48 Coda

Letters From Quotidia 48 Coda

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

The 48th letter is entitled, Coda.  Our heroes should remain distant: beyond the realm of the living, preferably. A fringe-dweller forever, I have been in no danger of tripping over any of the living legends that I have revered over the years, some of whom have been memorialised in these entries. Samuel Beckett, himself, of course, a legend to many and a genuine hero in that he put his life on the line for the French Resistance during the Second World War, came a cropper when he met with one of his heroes in Dublin.

I read somewhere that he was not too impressed upon meeting with that chameleon, Flann O’Brien, a.k.a. Myles Na gColapeen a.k.a Brian O’Nolan who has given the world such masterpieces in fiction as At Swim-Two Birds and The Third Policeman. Writing as Myles Na gColapeen, he wrote a column in The Irish Times entitled Cruiskeen Lawn from 1940 until his death in 1966 in which he regularly bit the hand that fed him, excoriating the Irish managerial class. And he did pay the price, being forced to resign from the Irish Civil Service in 1953 at the age of 42. Unlike James Joyce and Samuel Beckett, he did not flee the stultifying Ireland of the 40s and 50s but chose to remain, being, indeed, the mainstay of his family of 11 brothers and sisters after the death of his father in 1937. But at what price?

This game is played on websites across the world and at many a convention and conference where his oeuvre is endlessly discussed. He could have, some say, escaped the confines of the repressive milieu that blighted life for so many for so long- driving our hero, among legions of thirsty, like-minded escapees, into myriad pubs in cities, towns, villages and hamlets across the length and breadth of the Emerald Isle. He may not have become an alcoholic and consequently have been liberated to write many more masterpieces. So the argument goes- and who knows… and who will ever know because there is no way of resetting that life or any other.

Another- and better- game that is played is based on a popular occasional component of his column Cruiskeen Lawn, The Various Lives of Keats and Chapman. This is taken from The Spectator of 12 October 1990, but you can easily find current iterations of the game online- Flann O’Brien invented this game, which features the two characters above- mentioned. The idea is to involve them both in a long-drawn-out, po-faced but unlikely story, which is finally crowned (or sunk) by an excruciating pun on the part of Keats. Here is a very short example:The poet and Chapman once visited a circus. Chapman was very impressed by an act in which lions were used. A trainer entered a cage in which were two ferocious-looking specimens, sat down unconcernedly, took out a paper, and began to read. `He’s reading between the lions,’ Keats said.”

Yes, you either love it or loathe it: if it’s amor then the pun is mightier than the sword. Too much? But this is light stuff, and you should read At Swim-Two Birds, published in 1939 when the author was 28, to appreciate his astonishing demolition of the conventional novel form. Why have one opening when you can have three? Where characters can conspire among themselves to drug their fictional creator in order to avoid the melodrama of his plots and have a normal existence? Where separate plot-lines can merge and tangle? Where natural and supernatural characters coexist and where language, exuberant and playful, dances on the page. Unfortunately, even the imprimatur of Graham Greene was no match for a German bomb which destroyed warehoused copies of his novel in 1940.

But this did not stop me mimeographing excerpts from this magic tome for my students at Warrawong High School in the 1970s. I loved this stuff and I wanted my students to know the liberation that language could make possible and I still hope that some of those I taught will get in touch to tell me that either, I was just a windbag, or someone who gave them the means of escape. But I revere The Third Policeman. Written within a year or two of his first novel, it found no favour among the readers of contemporary publishers. Disheartened, he put this masterpiece on the mantelpiece and told people that it had been lost. Turns out, in was in sight there for the rest of his life but was not published until after his death.

The Third Policeman, in my opinion, is among the most profound novels in modern literature. I know that I have felt like the protagonist of the novel: what am I doing? How did I come to be here? What are they saying to me? When will I understand what is going on? As it turns out, the protagonist is in Hell, having been blown up by the man to whom he has given over the running of the farm. A bit like Prospero giving to his brother the mundane chore of administrating the Dukedom…Me, poor man,/My library was dukedom large enough.  Prospero’s failure to accept his larger responsibilities sees him overthrown and washed up on an enchanted island, with his daughter, Miranda.

Quotidia is much like the island: Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises/Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not./Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments/Will hum about mine ears; and sometime voices,/That, if I then had waked after long sleep,/Will make me sleep again: and then, in dreaming,/The clouds methought would open, and show riches/Ready to drop upon me; that, when I waked,/I cried to dream again./ Isn’t it wonderful that Shakespeare gives such poetry to the monster, Caliban. Gives us all hope, eh? Listen now to the song, Coda. [insert song]

The next letter concerns itself with fools of all sorts. We visit the pre-Cambrian era and listen to extracts from King Lear as well as a short story of Flannery O’Connor. For good measure you will hear a couple of Biblical proverbs which has a lot to say about wisdom and folly. So until then, try to live your life according to the former- do as I say, as they say…

Credits: All written text, song lyrics and music (including background music) written and composed by Quentin Bega unless otherwise specified in the credits section after individual posts. Illustrative excerpts from other texts identified clearly within each podcast. I donate to and use Wikipedia frequently as one of the saner sources of information on the web.

Technical Stuff: Microphone- (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter)

Microphone (for many of the songs) Shure SM58

For recording and mixing down 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used

Music accompaniment and composition software- Band-in-a-Box and RealBand 2020 as well as- for some 20 of the songs of year 2000 vintage- I used a Blue Mountains, NSW, studioApproximately 48 Banter folk songs and instrumentals recorded live (“in the round”) with a ThinkPad laptop using the inbuilt mic.

Letters From Quotidia Episode 47 Waiting for the Drought to Break

Letters From Quotidia 47 Waiting for the Drought to Break

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

Most of Australia, as I write this, has just emerged from a drought which has lasted for years. The horror wildfires of 2020 roaring across the landscape on its heels, were a direct consequence of this- and climate warming.  And this island continent, with the bravura that is habitual, has unleashed floods and cyclones to keep us on our toes. So welcome to letter 47 which is entitled- Waiting for the Drought to Break.

Writers, any writer, is a god. You summon something out of nothing- even if it’s dire, ordinary, inconsequential. And you wonder why you wrote this drivel and whether you should break your quill in half and chuck it in the bin. Is this how the Creator felt in that unknowable state before time and space existed at the instant of creation? ‘Cause, let’s admit it- we are not a particularly good product, are we? Consumer advice magazines would award us an epic fail rating. I know, staring at the screen now, that the words just written  will not prompt Shakespeare to spin in his grave over there in Stratford.

But still, we are gods, aren’t we? Conjuring something out of nothing remains a deep mystery to me. Enticing others to engage with the effluvia seems like a confidence trick, at times. Yet we go on, don’t we?  Whenever I visit my local library, I am struck by the huge number of books that I will never read. I don’t care too much about the stuff that I have no inclination to read, but I am haunted by the fear that I may pass by the one volume on the shelf that holds the key to my salvation- be it spiritually or secularly defined. The paralysis of too much choice: it has been defined and studied. So, how do we break this stasis? I like to resort to absurdity.

I imagine an intergalactic auction where Lot 354 is an audio recording of the last fart emitted by the last survivor of the human race. It is passed in for lack of interest in one iteration of the fantasy; in another, it sparks a bidding frenzy where whole star systems are put up as collateral. See what I mean about being god-like? Why read when you can write- yeah! In my case, why half-read when you can half-write. I have  shelves full of books that I have yet to finish reading as well as a drawer full of writing projects that are suspended: just waiting for the drought to break.

Another example of absurdity happens in spring and summer. I trundle the mower from the shed and check the oil, clean the air-filter, replenish the petrol and stoop down, bracing for the inevitable. I grasp the starter cord and, having ensured the choke is on and the fuel tap open, I briskly pull the cord out. Nothing happens. Sometimes my shoulder and arm are aching, repetitive strain having taken its toll, and I am on the verge of tears of rage and frustration. Yet, at some point, even if it’s the next day or the day after, the mower roars to life and I stride out muttering your ass is grass to the expanse of weeds, dandelions and struggling fragments of lawn that masquerade as my suburban back-yard.

This is analogous to the difficulties of fashioning this entry: which you may have guessed from the mention of God at the beginning and the subsequent references to mystery and astronomy. But the motor is running, the blades are spinning and the unruly growth hiding the fecund earth is being tucked into the catcher in readiness for transfer to the organics bin which will be proudly wheeled to the kerb on collection day, confirming me as a successful suburban citizen.

I feel, at times, like the man in Bruce Dawe’s poem, Homo Suburbiensis, hearing vaguely the clatter of a disk/in a sink that could be his, hearing a dog, a kid,/a far whisper of traffic, and offering up instead/Not much but as much as any man can offer/- time, pain, love, hate, age, war, death, laughter, fever. Almost like Beckett, who is another writer I look to for a commentary on existence. I first came across him as a student in 1969, having borrowed his 1938 novel, Murphy from the Belfast City library. It was a matter of you had me at hello. Its opening line marked the start of a journey through his output that is not yet over. The line? The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new.

Try this out for size, But he had turned, little by little, a disturbance into words, he had made a pillow of old words, for his head, from the novel Watt, written in Roussillon, southern France, where Beckett, a member of the French Resistance, had gone to evade the ministrations of the Gestapo. In the short prose work, The End, an old man, yet another in a line of tramps and down-and-outs, who inhabit Beckett’s world in droves remarks, I tried to groan, Help! Help! But the tone that came out was that of polite conversation. The bleak novel, The Unnameable, ends with a phrase that has provided sustenance to me for decades, you must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on.

There is no room in this entry to even scratch the surface of this artist’s dramatic output- in any case, you need to see plays like Waiting for Godot, Krapp’s Last Tape or Happy Days to get the full meaning. This is true of any play but, for Beckett, the minutiae of set, costume and stage direction were integral parts of the drama rather than mere background or dressing. I’ll leave you with a quote from 1983’s Worstward Ho, which I think I’ve seen as a tattoo on one of the many ink shows on TV, Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.  Fail better! Even this is sometimes too high a bar for me.[insert song]

Our next letter documents a problematic meeting in Ireland between two of my literary heroes, Samuel Beckett and Flann O’Brien, whose literary output will be glanced at. You will be introduced to a literary game that you may wish to play. There will be lines of exquisite poetry spoken by a monster and we will visit the classroom of a teaching tyro who is attempting to introduce his students to the intricacies of language found in literary texts, ah, the naivety of the innocent.

Credits: All written text, song lyrics and music (including background music) written and composed by Quentin Bega unless otherwise specified in the credits section after individual posts. Illustrative excerpts from other texts identified clearly within each podcast. I donate to and use Wikipedia frequently as one of the saner sources of information on the web.

Technical Stuff: Microphone- (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter)

Microphone (for many of the songs) Shure SM58

For recording and mixing down 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used

Music accompaniment and composition software- Band-in-a-Box and RealBand 2020 as well as- for some 20 of the songs of year 2000 vintage- I used a Blue Mountains, NSW, studioApproximately 48 Banter folk songs and instrumentals recorded live (“in the round”) with a ThinkPad laptop using the inbuilt mic.

Letters From Quotidia Episode 46 Everything Goes/Restless Paces

Letters From Quotidia 46 Everything Goes/Restless Paces

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia – , letter number 46, a podcast by Quentin Bega for lovers of music, poetry, and the Crack- that most Irish of nouns which may encompass, news, gossip, fun, entertainment, and enjoyable conversation. Quotidia is that space, that place, where ordinary people lead ordinary lives. But where, from time to time, they encounter the extraordinary.

What is the plan, now? Have you ever heard this? In some meeting, in some relationship, in some internal conversation you have had with yourself or perhaps as part of a cognitive behaviour therapy session you are undergoing? I knew there was something wrong with me from the mid-nineties. I had banging headaches, nausea, an inability to think beyond tomorrow and a contradictory belief that I was invincible, somehow. Meeting with an old friend who was living up Sydney’s Glebe Point Road in an apartment, I celebrated my return to Sydney from North Queensland in 1995 by getting horribly drunk and raving like a lunatic.

This was not perceived as being particularly out of order because my life had been, for so many years, constructed out of just these bricks of self-destruction. Why they did not crash down upon my head? I have had reason to reflect upon it in the years since. So many times I have been, because of my affection for the demi-monde and, particularly, alcohol, in situations of considerable danger. Now, I could cite a guardian angel as the reason for my survival- but I know that is part of this whole magical thinking phenomenon. We all live till we die. Nothing will alter the fact that there is a limit to life. Do you want to live forever? Not me, but, given the choice, I don’t want to go just yet! So much to do; so much to see; so much to… you get the drift.

I know that I have dodged death so many times. A gun pointed at my head in Belfast; a confrontation with a brace of violent men on a secluded road; a miraculous save from a road accident in Warrawong- I could go on- as I am sure all of you can. Lots of times we don’t even know that we have dodged a bullet, because nothing happened. Luck, Lady Fortuna, Serendipity and Synchronicity are terms you may well be familiar with.

But what do you think about this insight into the nature of perception: In contrast to an epiphany, an apophany does not provide insight into the nature of reality or its interconnectedness but is a “process of repetitively and monotonously experiencing abnormal meanings in the entire surrounding experiential field”. Such meanings are entirely self-referential, solipsistic, and paranoid. If I knew what that meant, I would tell you. But I think you are way in front- an apophany is just absolute nonsense, the opposite of what James Joyce famously termed as an epiphany.

Yet, just about everyone I know; everyone who has spoken to me about the deep and meaningful stuff, has, at one time or another, talked about “a sudden spiritual manifestation, whether from some object, scene, event, or memorable phase of the mind–the manifestation being out of proportion to the significance or strictly logical relevance of whatever produces it.”  And here’s the thing: I hate listening to others wittering on about their meaningful objects, scenes, events, et cetera. And yet I’m going to do just that.

As the millennium was drawing to a close, my eyesight began to fade, I was feeling dreadful- beyond hangover, which I was habituated to. I felt mortality pressing down on me more than usual and the dreams of death were becoming tiresomely frequent. I knew I had extreme idiopathic hypertension in 1996 when my doctor told me not to return to work the next day (as I was in danger of dropping dead at any second) and sent me on a round of tests and dosed me with a large number of pharmaceutical products that finally got the blood pressure under control. But this was new, and yet another test revealed that my blood sugar was through the ceiling. The joys of ageing- in my case accelerated by what is referred to euphemistically as lifestyle choices.

So then, what is this apophany I’ve been talking about? Well, I have to bring up another neologism at this point- patternicity. Michael Shermer, founder of the Sceptics Society, coined this one in 2008, when he defined it as, the tendency to find meaningful patterns in meaningless noise. Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t this what happens in just about every meeting in the workplace today? Someone spouting arrant rubbish in multisyllabic torrents as nodding heads around the table give assent to the madness. So, I nodded with the panic dwarfs and waited for too many years until the mortgage was finally paid off and the government decided that it could pay me a stipend, called the age pension, for the rest of my days.

What was this apophany? Listen: I have repetitively and monotonously experienced the feeling that I count for something. And that you do, too. Insane, isn’t it? William Blake put it in these terms, To see a world in a grain of sand/And heaven in a wild flower/Hold infinity in the palm of your hand/And eternity in an hour. And once again I ask the question, where would we be without our poets?

Now to the song, which is a portmanteau composition. I started writing Everything Goes, shortly after learning that I was not bullet-proof in 1998. I was dissatisfied with it and couldn’t work out why so I left it and started to write a pean to music and love, entitled Restless Paces, which was also OK , but about which I remained less than satisfied. And then, one afternoon, I put them together with a linking musical line and-voila- in my humble opinion, it worked! [insert song]

In the next letter I put forward the modest suggestion that all writers are gods, we visit an intergalactic auction where we will bid, perhaps, on Lot 354, recite lines from Bruce Dawe’s wonderful poem about suburban man, so bring along that little paddle with your number on it, so you can make a bid.

Credits: All written text, song lyrics and music (including background music) written and composed by Quentin Bega unless otherwise specified in the credits section after individual posts. Illustrative excerpts from other texts identified clearly within each podcast. I donate to and use Wikipedia frequently as one of the saner sources of information on the web.

Technical Stuff: Microphone- (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter)

Microphone (for many of the songs) Shure SM58

For recording and mixing down 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used

Music accompaniment and composition software- Band-in-a-Box and RealBand 2020 as well as- for some 20 of the songs of year 2000 vintage- I used a Blue Mountains, NSW, studioApproximately 48 Banter folk songs and instrumentals recorded live (“in the round”) with a ThinkPad laptop using the inbuilt mic.