Letters From Quotidia Episode 10 Easter Rises

Easter Rises

Entry 10: Easter Rises 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.  

For my tenth excursion into podcast territory, I’ll have a look into the ravening maw of consumerism and seek a vaccine by calling on Wordsworth to inoculate me with some lines from the Immortality Ode.

I am quite taken by that thoughtful Quaker belief, “the testimony against the keeping of times and seasons” which states that all of life is sacramental; that since all times are therefore holy, no time should be marked out as more holy; that what God has done for us should always be remembered.

Not that I have ever followed this practice: caught in the coils of commercialism, having been harried by the pester power of the kids over the years, having the state of my kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, laundry, study- let’s face it, every nook and cranny of my dwelling, not to mention the garden shed and garage- sneered at by renovation shows and lambasted by lifestyle mavens, I have long since capitulated to capitalism’s handmaiden- commercialism.

There is scarcely a week in the year that is not marked by some “occasion” for marketing: New Year’s sales in January, Valentine’s Day in February, mad March sales, Easter eggs in April, Mother’s Day in May- the list goes on. Did I mention Father’s Day, Halloween and Christmas? I look in vain in the shopping centres for businesses that are not having a sale. Hang on a minute- I do believe that market forces are on the way to levelling the days and weeks of the year to the Quaker ideal of no day being marked out as more special than any other. Just one gigantic sales frenzy from January 1st through to December 31st.

But, to tell you the truth, certain days have always been red-letter days for me, and I know, for most other people. Birthdays: one’s own and those of friends and those you love; anniversaries of one sort or another: weddings, deaths, and special events. For me, Halloween was special, not only because I got to go trick-or-treating as a child and came back with a bag stuffed full with goodies- but because it was also my birthday.

Only Christmas loomed larger as a cornucopia from which myriad gifts spilled in glorious abundance before my childish, avaricious eyes. Then, later, as I watched our children’s glee on birthdays or Christmas over the years, I knew that the market-place was in no imminent danger of going out of business on my account.

The song contrasts Easter in Northern Ireland with Easter in Sydney. The festival occurs in springtime in the northern hemisphere with the re-birth of life an annual miracle. In Sydney, it marks the change to less warm days and longer nights- nothing as dramatic as the fall of leaves which paints the eastern sea board of North America autumnal orange, red and brown.

In Sydney, the traditional four seasons most people in Europe or America, respond to just don’t cut it. Aboriginals will tell you that there are five or six distinct seasons here. Having lived, worked and enjoyed my recreation in largely air-conditioned environments, I have no expertise in this area. But even someone as desensitised as I am to the finer points of the natural world, cannot but be awestruck by the miracle of growth.

The song you will hear at the end of the entry will deal, in part, with our younger, more faithful and innocent selves. Wordsworth captures this so beautifully in the majestic Immortality Ode: There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,/ The earth, and every common sight, To me did seem Apparelled in celestial light,/ The glory and the freshness of a dream……Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:/ The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star, / Hath had elsewhere its setting, /And cometh from afar: / Not in entire forgetfulness,/And not in utter nakedness, But trailing clouds of glory do we come/From God, who is our home:/Heaven lies about us in our infancy!/Shades of the prison-house begin to close/ Upon the growing Boy……Thanks to the human heart by which we live,/ Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears,/ To me the meanest flower that blows can give/Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.

How can you better that? This, of course, is the quandary faced by anyone who presumes to enter the lists against the giants of the Arts. And yet we do, knowing that we suffer by comparison. But, wouldn’t the world be a stranger and more barren place if only the very best in every field of endeavour bothered to show up for any contest? 

That not everyone hits the heights or becomes a star should not prevent one from making the attempt. Having said this, I do think it’s a fraud on the young to suggest that they can do anything at all, if only they put their mind to it. There is a bit more to it than wishful thinking, even if it is supported by ceaseless endeavour. Luck and superior, innate gifts also play an important part.

The bridge of the song describes the impact of the death of my first-born son and how the birth of my younger daughter at Easter-time two years later helped to alleviate the pain and assuage the bitterness and anger I felt: [insert song, Easter Rises]

Legs Eleven would be the way a bingo caller would enumerate the next podcast and if Milton and Genesis are a bit heavy for your tastes, wait around for the pop cultural references to The Godfather and The Lion King.

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 9 The Self-Unseeing

Quentin Bega
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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. Poetry is never far from the Gaelic imagination, and in podcast number nine, The Self-Unseeing, we’ll have a look at two short poems, one by English poet, Thomas Hardy and  the other by American poet, Carl Sandburg

Back in the 1980s, I was teaching at a grammar school in Northern Ireland. The novels of Thomas Hardy were on the curriculum for O and A Levels as they had been when I was at school in the sixties. I was teaching the novels as opposed to learning about them from a teacher droning at the front of the room. Now I was the droner. In a poll, taken in London at the time, Hardy emerged as the most popular author among senior students. I have a high regard for his novels but a higher regard for his poetry, which covers a wide range of forms and subjects. There can be little argument that he is among the greatest of the English poets of the 20th Century because of his adventurous and insightful exploration of what it is to be human.

His poems about his first wife, Emma, were written after her death and an awkward estrangement of twenty long years. They are searing in their remorse and filled with regret and remembered love. Although Hardy could, and did, write about the larger themes such as war, belief, the impact of technology, social constraints and class- it is when he examines the minutiae of family life and personal relationships that he comes into his own.

His poem, The Self-Unseeing, deals with his remembrance of his mother and father and a scene from his boyhood when he was truly happy: Here is the ancient floor, /Footworn and hollowed and thin, /Here was the former door/Where the dead feet walked in. //She sat here in her chair,/Smiling into the fire;/ He who played stood there, /Bowing it higher and higher.//Childlike, I danced in a dream; / Blessings emblazoned that day; / Everything glowed with a gleam; /Yet we were looking away!

It is only after the event that we can truly appreciate how happy we were. Hence the human predilection for rose-tinted glasses, sentimentality and nostalgia. But Hardy avoids the mawkish and the maudlin when he deals with these matters, and this, I suppose, is what makes him a great artist. Aristotle explored in some detail the question of what it means to lead a fulfilled life. He rejects the pursuit of a life of sensual gratification and, also, the pursuit of a life solely concerned with honour. He concludes that Eudaimonia or Happiness satisfies his criteria for the best life.

But unpacking this term in prose would burst the constraints of this podcast- not to mention my aching head! I turn, instead, to Carl Sandburg, a 20th Century American poet, for his mischievous take on this question which he sets out  in his poem entitled, Happiness I asked the professors who teach the meaning of life to tell me what is happiness./And I went to famous executives who boss the work of thousands of men./They all shook their heads and gave me a smile as though I was trying to fool with them/And then one Sunday afternoon I wandered out along the Desplaines river/And I saw a crowd of Hungarians under the trees with their women and children and a keg of beer and an accordion.

This poem strongly resonates with me because it reflects an annual pre-Covid gathering where our family joins family groups of friends and relations for a fish barbecue at a local park. Several generations spend the day celebrating…what? Being alive and in Australia, remembering our culture and those who are absent through geographic separation, work commitments or death.

Shortly before my father died, thirty years ago, I was living and working in Ballymena, which is a market town in Northern Ireland. It was late December, just before Christmas, and it was dark and cold. My sister Mary and her husband, John with their two children, Krista and Monika, had driven across Europe from Munich to visit. The fire was blazing and all the Yuletide decorations were on display. With Mum and Dad, there were ten of us and, at one point in the evening, a guitar was produced and we sang Christmas carols. Then, John taught my kids the verse of Silent Night in German and we listened, entranced, as the four kids sang that sublime song using the original words.

At this time, 100 years ago on the Western Front, all went quiet when the strains of this carol drifted across no man’s land and the fighting men on both sides declared a truce and for one day, a minor miracle. This was against the wishes of the superior officers on the British side. On the German side, a young corporal of the 16th Bavarian Reserve Infantry, was also an opponent of the truce. His name: Adolf Hitler. But on that section of those vast killing fields, peace reigned for a short while. However, this being the world we live in, the fighting resumed and we can only mourn the loss of so many lives on both sides of the conflict. That night in Ballymena, I recall clearly. In the unmistakeable, idiosyncratic diction of Thomas Hardy’s poem, The Self-Unseeing, blessings emblazoned that day. But I, too, was looking away. [insert song The Self-Unseeing] The next podcast rises to double digits and introduces the listener to sales and celebrations and the sublime Immortality Ode

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 2

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, the Postcards edition, number 2, 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.

For our first item, Mark, our fiddler, pulled this out of the ether as we were thinking about what to record next  in our sessions for Noel, our friend who was returning to Ireland. I vaguely remembered the chords that went along with these tunes (not rocket science really, we’re talking about folk music, after all.) And so we struck up the band!- no, not really, just Mark- and me noodling away while the rest of the company enjoyed yet another refreshing ale! But here I’d like to present King of the Fairies/Queen of the Fairies– Another pair of fine tunes from the Irish instrumental tradition. The fiddle is central to the sound of Banter and it is given due prominence in this brace of melodies.

For me, Michael Hoffman’s 1999 film of Shakespeare’s  Midsummer Night’s Dream with Rupert Everett as Oberon and Michelle Pheiffer as Titania springs to mind when I hear the titles of the tunes now. I have always disliked the greeting-card imagery of fairies and angels as cute-as-buttons homoculi cavorting around petal-strewn gardens or fluffy white cotton-wool clouds. Fairies really are much more fearsome creatures. Cross them at your peril. [insert King of the Fairies/Queen of the Fairies]

 Songs of the sea are a staple of the group. We like the stories and the tunes and the rollicking pace so  many of them possess (such as the case with this example). A belief, common among sailors, was that spotting a mermaid was an omen of impending storm and shipwreck. I have read, somewhere, that Boy Scouts in America sing this song around their campfires (which is no stranger than, say, a bunch of superannuated musos singing it around their grog-laden table…) Here Jim leads the group in a rendition of The Mermaid. [insert song]

Viva la Quinta Brigada  (listed as Viva la Quince Brigada in later recordings) is a Christy Moore song about the Irishmen who fought in the Spanish Civil War against Franco. The title was inspired by a Spanish song about the war,Viva la Quince Brigada. Moore wrote this song choosing to focus on the Irish socialist volunteers (who in later years became known as the Connolly Column) who were a small contingent within the 15th International Brigade. The tune which he used was similar to the version of Viva la Quince Brigada recorded by Pete Seeger and the Almanac Singers in the early 1940s.

The song was inspired by Spanish Civil War veteran Michael O’Riordan’s book Connolly Column.Moore’s original song title – which translates as “Long live the Fifth Brigade” – was a slip due to the similarity in Spanish between “quinta” (fifth) and “quince” (fifteen). Both titles are correct however, originally there were ten brigades in the Spanish army, the five international brigades were then added to the list making the 5th International Brigade the 15th Brigade of the Spanish republic. Name-checked were men from all parts of Ireland, Catholic, Protestant and of no faith, including, a Church of Ireland pastor, Bob Hilliard later became an atheist. In later versions of the song, Christy amended locales of a couple of the people name-checked but I have stuck here to the version I learned a quarter of a century ago. [insert Viva La Quinta Brigada]

Stephen Foster wrote this in 1856- based on an Irish melody. The song went to England, then, later, to Australia where it acquired these lyrics by Lame Jack Cousens of Springhurst, Victoria, who was a travelling thresher. I first heard this sung by Johnny McEvoy c. 1971 in Co. Cork at my brother Jim’s place.

Stephen Foster liked a drink as so many of us do. He died early, of a fever, at the age of 37. The wowsers of the time were quick with the label, drunkard, but somehow managed to overlook the quality and quantity of his song-writing. Thirty years after his death, one reporter described him as paying “the penalty of an irregular life.” So, you see, he had a lot of detractors, of a mind like that anonymous reporter. And, like that reporter, I would imagine that  they are also now unknown nobodies while Stephen Foster lives on in his songs that we, and so many people of good heart, around this wonderful world, sing!

That has been the second postcard from Quotidia. And, again, isn’t it peculiarly Irish that the postcards are longer than the Letters From Quotidia. Ah well! Our next edition of postcards will feature yet more tunes, another song of the sea, a great union song and a cautionary tale for all men . So, join me, then, for another foray into the fabulous arena that is, folk music. 

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

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

Microphone (for many of the songs) Shure SM58

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

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

Letters From Quotidia Episode 8 Sylvia

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia – a podcast by Quentin Bega for lovers of music, poetry, and the Crack- that most Irish of nouns which may encompass, news, gossip, fun, entertainment, and enjoyable conversation. Quotidia is that space, that place, where ordinary people lead ordinary lives. But where, from time to time, they encounter the extraordinary. A product warning- fun and entertainment may be in shorter supply in this, the eighth letter in the series, Sylvia– but I hope there are items of interest along with the pathos.

I first read The Savage God, by A. A. Alvarez, in 1974. This book was the first time I had encountered an examination of the subject of suicide which was actually readable and I found myself gripped by the long section on Sylvia Plath, the American poet who had married Ted Hughes. Now, Hughes I knew, from college lectures, to be a much-admired poet dealing with themes associated with nature and, in particular, the unreflecting savagery of animals- but I knew nothing of his wife’s work.  Seeking out a copy of Ariel, which was published posthumously in 1965, I started reading, and re-reading, those dark and brilliant poems. I also sought out other poems and works by her, including The Bell Jar, a novel which details the female protagonist’s steady mental decline, several suicide attempts, institutionalisation and Electro-Convulsive Therapy. The novel is semi-autobiographical and after a year or so I felt impelled to write a song about her, using images from her poems to help construct the lyric.  The Greek philosopher, Socrates, argued against suicide, for most part, but ended his life by drinking a hemlock-infused potion: a penalty for having been found guilty of corrupting the youth of Athens and impiety. He saw himself as a gadfly, someone who would sting the state into righteous action. Well, the state reacted as we all do when a stinging insect attacks. Kill it or shoo it away!

The Athenian jurors who voted for the death penalty probably thought that Socrates would take the opportunity to flee before the sentence was to be promulgated. Socrates, however, deeming himself to be a true citizen with a horror of life outside the city-state and obedient to the rule of law, drank the hemlock, turned to his friend, Crito, and said I owe a cock to Asclepius, see that the debt is paid. He remains the true ideal of an Athenian citizen, reverencing the gods and punctilious about paying debts. Asclepius, is the god of healing and perhaps Socrates is intimating that death releases the soul from the body and its attendant ills, particularly as one ages.

Four centuries later in Palestine, Judas flings the blood-money he has accepted for his betrayal of Jesus back at the temple priests and hangs himself in despair. They use the tainted money to buy a potter’s field and bury him there. Dante, in The Inferno places Judas in the deepest circle of hell where Satan chews on his head eternally. The Gnostics, on the other hand, reasoning that Judas set in train the salvation of the world, view him as the greatest of all the Apostles. Go figure.

Is there any surprise, though, that one of the most compelling and enduring contemplations of suicide was written 400 years ago by William Shakespeare? You can count in the hundreds of millions the number of people who can complete the line: To be or not to be. The absence of illness or adversity may not be sufficient to answer the question posed by Hamlet in the affirmative, but clearly if one is suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous Fortune one might choose to end the heart-ache, and the thousand natural shocks that Flesh is heir to by taking arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing, end them. But is it the end? For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come, when we have shuffled off this mortal coil, must give us pause. Indeed, and in that pause do most of us not acquiesce and resign ourselves to grunt and sweat under a weary life because of the dread of something after death, the undiscovered country, from whose bourn no traveller returns, puzzles the will, and makes us rather bear those ills we have, than fly to others that we know not of.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus says: Greater love hath no man than this; that a man lay down his life for his friends. Is this an invitation to martyrdom? A vindication of altruistic suicide? It is certainly a high bar, and one that many have cleared. The stories of soldiers throwing themselves on a grenade to save their comrades and similar tales of heroic self – sacrifice are seen as justifications for self-slaughter by most people. An example of this is Maximilian Kolbe, a Franciscan priest, who volunteered to take the place of a prisoner who was selected to die of starvation in an underground bunker with nine others as a reprisal for an escape from Auschwitz.

The swap was agreed and Franciszek Gajowniczek, who had cried out in anguish for his wife and family, lived for a further 53 years, attending the beatification and later canonisation of Kolbe where the pope at the time, John Paul II, declared him to be a Christian martyr. In 2011, Jessica Council, a 30 year old pregnant mother, refused cancer treatment in order to give her unborn child the best chance for survival; she died, leaving behind a husband, son and a newborn child who is alive today because of her sacrifice. [insert song Sylvia] The next podcast is a bit lighter, canvassing novelist Thomas Hardy, philosopher Aristotle and poet Carl Sandburg as we examine the themes of happiness and family remembrances.

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 7 Old Dog

Quentin Bega
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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.

  How did I get this far, shamelessly dropping famous names, wherever possible, across a half-dozen entries without mentioning Shakespeare? OK- it’s time. Let’s not mess around, but leap to the greatest play of them all, Hamlet, and leap also into the grave of the fair Ophelia who, driven mad with her love for Hamlet, has drowned herself.

We see the Danish prince struggling with her brother, Laertes, who has his hands around Hamlet’s throat. Laertes, is mad with grief, blaming Hamlet for her death. From a distance they seem to be engaged in a macabre dance which brings to mind other connotations of the phrase “mess around” with Ray Charles singing Ah, you can talk about the pit, barbecue/The band was jumpin’, the people too/Ah, mess around/They doin’ the mess around.

But that’s neither here nor there and I can hear you saying- hey, where’s the blank verse of Shakespeare we were expecting? Fair enough, now where were we? Ah yes, in the grave with the two men fighting. Hamlet says to Laertes, What is the reason that you use me thus? /I loved you ever. But it is no matter. /Let Hercules himself do what he may, / The cat will mew and dog will have his day.

Human relationships…it’ll do your head in! And talking about heads…not long before the kerfuffle with Laertes, Hamlet had been talking to a gravedigger who was holding a skull he had just dug up. You all know the scene, Hamlet takes the skull, which is that of the court jester of his boyhood, and declaims Alas, poor Yorrick, I knew him, Horatio: a fellow of infinite jestWhere be your gibes now? Your gambols? Your songs? Your flashes of merriment that were wont to set the table on a roar?…Now get you to my lady’s chamber, and tell her, let her paint an inch thick, to this favour she must come; make her laugh at that.

People can be unpleasant. Wasn’t it Satre who said- Hell is other people? Give me a dog any day! Well, at times I feel like that…and anyway, what does it mean when you say that a dog will have his day? Two interpretations are common: first, that even the most powerless among us will get revenge one day (which seems to me to be another example of the triumph of hope over experience). The other popular meaning is that we will all experience good fortune at some time in our lives.

But even the relatively uncomplicated universe of dogs is a place of conundrum and contradiction: To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring–it was peace.” Milan Kundera. Or: Heaven goes by favour. If it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would go in. Mark Twain. But: Throw a stick, and the servile dog wheezes and pants and stumbles to bring it to you Do the same before a cat, and he will eye you with coolly polite and somewhat bored amusement. And just as inferior people prefer the inferior animal which scampers excitedly because someone else wants something, so do superior people respect the superior animal which lives its own life and knows that the puerile stick-throwings of alien bipeds are none of its business and beneath its notice.… H. P. Lovecraft.

So, which side are you on? Or, would you agree with Winston Churchill: I am fond of pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals. For my part, I’ve never had a pig as a pet, although, being a huge fan of the Blandings castle tales of P.G Wodehouse, I fantasise that were I ever to inherit a stately pile in Shropshire, I, too, would have a majestic pig just like the Empress to cosset, pamper and primp in preparation for the fat pig section of the county fair in hopes of taking out the coveted blue ribbon. Chances are though, on the pet front- I’ll remain pigless. I’ve had cats and dogs as pets over the years and have appreciated the qualities of each.

Every dog will have his day, and my last pet, a miniature fox terrier, we named Maggs after the Peter Carey character who, in turn, was based on the Charles Dickens’ character Abel Magwitch from Great Expectations. Lots of people go to Dickens for dog names: Barley, Browdie, Dodger, Duff, Granger, Jasper, Nubbles, Fluff- that last one I made up for the euphony. But the rest are suggested as suitable labels for our canine companions.

For ten years Maggs kept the family company before succumbing to heart problems. My grief for the dog was real and on his final day, I sat on the back step listening to his laboured breathing, watching the stars come out, stroking his bony head and recalling Hopkin’s Spring and Fall: Margaret, are you grieving/Over Goldengrove unleaving/Now no matter child the name/Sorrow’s springs are the same/Ah as the heart grows older/It will come to such sights colder/It is the blight man was born for/It is Margaret you mourn for. [insert song The Old Dog] The next podcast features Sylvia Plath, Socrates, Dante and an argument from that group called the Gnostics that posits Judas as a really good guy…listen in next time and see if you agree.

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

Recording and mixing down 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended

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 6 A Touch of Ireland

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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.

There is a small community radio station called WOW FM in St Marys, a suburb of Sydney’s outer west. It caters for a range of ethnic and community groups as well as individuals who have a yen for presenting and who can convince the board that what they have to offer is in harmony with the ethos and aims of the station.

St Marys, situated around South Creek which flows through the Cumberland plain at the foot of the Blue Mountains, was originally settled by the Commerigal-Tongarra tribe of the Dharug people about 45,000 years ago. But those vast swathes of time and all the men, women and children pouring down the generations are largely hidden to view: a not unusual consequence of European settlement and its aftermath.

We know the names of the invading overlords and their lackeys who were granted land by the English crown. The flogging parson, Samuel Marsden, for example, was given over 1000 acres in the area by Governor King who also ensured that his own family got in on the land grab. Lots of details and names here, but I can’t find any of the names of the Aboriginal dispossessed.

I’ll have something to say about the dispossessed in a later entry, but for now, I want to get down from the soap-box I seem to have mounted and talk about the Irish connection. During the 19th Century as the Sydney basin was increasingly settled, convicts-Irish among them- provided an economic way of ensuring rapid development. And, no doubt confounding the shades of the likes of Samuel Marsden, the convicts, for most part, prospered and put their stamp on the region.

The small settlement on the banks of South Creek continued to grow and, by the second decade of the 20th Century, a serene and prosperous township was dreaming in the Australian sun, entirely oblivious of the apocalypse hatching in the soul of a Serbian nationalist in Sarajevo. Lines of a local poet, George Sullivan recall those idyllic days:

If only Victoria Park could speak/ What wondrous tales from it you’d share, /About those careless, happy days/ When it was called ‘The Square’./ It could tell of all the bullocks/That were roasted on its green;/Of the glorious games of football/By sportsmen strong and clean./ It could tell of games of cricket,/ Of how the wickets soon did fall/When demon bowlers, Royal and Tolhurst,/Did send down the ball. The names of all too many of those sportsmen strong and clean would be inscribed in bronze on tablets marking the fallen in the Great War, and subsequent wars, on the octagonal Rotunda. The phrase, strong and clean emerges 60 years later when  Redgum sang, This clipping from the paper shows us young and strong and clean/ And there’s me in me slouch hat and me SLR and greens/ God help me, I was only 19.

The Irish love sport and having a flutter. They also love their culture and, in the mid-nineties, Jim Clarke and Noel O’Donohue started a radio program they called, A Touch of Ireland. For almost two decades they presented music, news and items of interest for their audience, largely, but not entirely, the Irish diaspora. From convict times to the present there have been waves of Irish migrants, among whom I would number myself, who have found in Australia a refuge from political and economic turmoil. I was a regular listener to the program and it struck me as a refreshing change from so much of the garbage spewing from the commercial stations by obscenely overpaid shock jocks. You know who I mean, those contemptible commentators who classify it as a missed opportunity if they can’t turn a radio listener from someone at peace with his or her world into a tightly wound xeno- or islamo- or homo-phobe, frothing at the mouth. I expect there is a special section of hell reserved for them.

I wrote the song, A Touch of Ireland, in gratitude to people like Jim and Noel that the airwaves were not the sole preserve of hate-mongers. This was shortly after the start of the new millennium when planes should have been falling from the sky and energy grids collapsing- all because the computer geeks had not realised that two-digit year dates repeated every century. Weren’t we all so happy that the sky did not fall in courtesy of the millennium bug? Of course, the sky didn’t fall in, but, from the sky, ushering in a change as profound as that caused by that bullet in Sarajevo, two planes struck the twin towers in New York City and- here we are.

But life goes on, and, while Jim and Noel are no longer hosting the program they conceived all those years ago, I am happy to say that I now co-present the show, A Touch of Ireland. I am happy to dedicate the song, also called A Touch of Ireland, to the men who brought a touch of Ireland to the audience of our community radio station: well done, guys! [insert song A Touch of Ireland] Join me next time- as well as a bunch of dogs, cats, pigs and characters from Shakespeare-to say nothing of Ray Charles and the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins as we examine the pro’s and con’s of owning a pet, among other things…

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

Recording and mixing down 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended

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 5 Changes

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.

Don’t you love creation myths? The question, Where do we come from? is swiftly followed by Where are we going? The latter question may be addressed in a later entry but for now I’ll talk about beginnings. Genesis was the earliest myth I encountered, with its poetry and puzzles. Later, I found other accounts to puzzle and delight me.

The Chinese creation myth is one example. According to my muse, Wikipedia, the creator, a being named Pangu, slept on, or perhaps in, a black egg of chaos and when the principles of Ying and Yang were perfectly poised, the whole shebang kicked off. Somewhere in the mix, a bit later on I guess, were brother and sister, Fu Xi and Nü Wa who were the original humans.

One day, for reasons I couldn’t discover, they set up two separated piles of fire, and the fire eventually became one. Then, under the fire they decided to become husband and wife. Fu Xi subsequently observed the patterns of the world and created the eight trigrams “in order to become thoroughly conversant with the numinous and bright and to classify the myriad things.”

This becomes the basis of Taoist and Confucian divination that we know as the I Ching, which is a canonical text among New Agers, but has a wider cultural currency. Most people know about the system for divination using the throwing of sticks to form a pattern or generating random numbers in a computer to access the 64 hexagrams- all very abstruse and interesting in its own way, but not really what I want to talk about- I was simply struck by the fact that I Ching translates as Changes– the name of my song- as I was fossicking through the website.

As Chrissie Hynde sings, in her composition, Hymn to Her “some things change, some stay the same” Change and Stasis- opposed yet linked concepts have intrigued people other than Chrissie from the beginning, I would wager. But, for my money, the best explication of this duality is John Keats’ Ode to a Grecian Urn. On the urn is depicted a scene from a Greek idyll featuring gods, perhaps, lovers and musicians trapped in time forever and the subject of future generations’ perusal and inquiry. The closing lines are among the most famous in all literature: When old age shall this generation waste, /Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe/ Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st, /”Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all/Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.” Well, actually, we do need to know a bit more.

But I applaud the genius that wrote those words and who perished way too early: which reminds me of Stephen Spender’s poem, I Think Continually of Those Who Were Truly Great He was only 21 and thinking about sex and Beethoven and Michelangelo when he wrote this poem containing the lines: What is precious is never to forget/The essential delight of the blood drawn from ageless springs/ breaking through rocks in worlds before our earth…/Never to allow gradually the traffic to smother/with noise and fog the flowering of the spirit. This echoes the great Wordsworth sonnet: The world is too much with us; late and soon/ Getting and spending we lay waste our powers/ Little we see in nature that is ours/ We have given our hearts away: a sordid boon!

God, how I love words such as these, used by those who are truly great. So this brings me back to where this entry started- The Bible: not the Old Testament, but the New, where the Gospel of John begins…here it is in Latin– In principio erat verbum et Verbum erat apud Deum et Deus erat Verbum: In the English of the King James Bible it renders as, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. But the Logos-which is Greek for Word– doesn’t originate with John but can be traced back to Heraclitis- you know, the dude who said you couldn’t step in the same stream twice.

Were I asked to give my tuppence worth, which, godlike, and within the confines of this podcast, I can, I’d say something like “the Word, the Logos, is not passive; a mere spoken or written construct containing, signs, signals and information. Rather, it is like an utterance of power from a Bach chorale strung out eternally, sung by a chorus of angels with attendant seraphim ringing all the changes, and surpassing, to the nth degree, the music of the spheres.”

Lord, that exercise in verbosity has given me the head-staggers and while I would wish to be able, like Fu Xi, to study the patterns of the world in order to become thoroughly conversant with the numinous and bright, I think I’ll have to be content to pick up my guitar, strum a few chords, look at the ceiling and try to draw down inspiration from Calliope, Erato and Euterpe, the three sisters who are daughters of mighty Zeus and the muses of poetry and music. [insert the song Changes] For my next excursion, now- that I sort of know you all, in a virtual sort of a way, let me transport you to the Cumberland plain of western Sydney where I have made my home for the last twenty five years.

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

Recording and mixing down 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended

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 One

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, the Postcards edition, number 1, 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.

 In Banter, I play guitar. The fiddle is played by Mark Monaghan, my nephew. On mandolin is his father, Jim Monaghan, and on bodhran is Sammy Beggs, a friend of long standing. The vocals are shared among Jim, Sammy and me. This is pretty much Banter’s performance set-up for the last quarter century and that arrangement suits us just fine. Don’t move with the times, transcend them. (Or so we tell ourselves!)

 Now, a  brief word on the recordings: items one and three in each postcard edition were recorded almost 10 years back for a friend who spent a brief time in the band in the 90s. He wanted to take some music back to Ireland where he was making a last visit before his final illness claimed him.  I set up a laptop on a table with its in-built mic and we  played and had a few drinks and a bit of crack over several nights. These are very much unadorned live takes. Items two and four, however, were recorded in lockdown during 2020 and feature just me, but with a better microphone and music software in the place of live musicians for accompaniment. This is courtesy of  COVID-19. I would have preferred our wee group for all the selections, but needs must. Therefore, you will find items 1&3 to be rough and ready, but with an undeniably live vibe, whereas items 2&4, it must be said in their favour, are a bit more polished.

I learned the first tune you’re going to hear back in the mid-1970s. when I played with Seannachie, a pioneering folk group in Wollongong at that time.  The Spanish Cloak is an instrumental piece, sometimes known as The Munster Cloak. [insert tune, The Spanish Cloak]

Second, is a Ewan McColl composition about the truckies who plied their trade in Britain during the pre-motorway days of the 1950s. It has a great title, Champion at Keeping Them Rolling. I heard the Dubliners do this from an LP I listened to donkey’s years ago. The tune is that of an old Irish song called The Limerick Rake. Incidentally, I saw Ewan McColl and his wife, Peggy Seeger, perform in the mid-1970s in Wollongong Town Hall. It was a great concert and lives in my memory still. [insert song, Champion at Keeping Them Rolling]

Our third selection, The Diamantina Drover, is marvellous song which looks at the Australian experience. The drover is an iconic Aussie character and here the persona reflects upon the landscape, his regrets and longings, in a uniquely Antipodean way.  Written by Hugh McDonald, who performed and recorded with the Bushwackers, the Sundowners, Banshee, Redgum, Des “Animal” McKenna, Moving Cloud and the Colonials, this is one of our favourite songs. I have to report, sadly, that Hugh lost his battle with prostate cancer in November, 2016, a real loss to Australian folk music. This song has by far the most listens of any of the items on my website The Summa Quotidian at quentinbega.com  [insert The Diamantina Drover]

The final selection for this postcard, Rosalita and Jack Campbell was written twenty years ago or so by Sean Mone of Keady, Co Armagh about the terror of drive-bys and targeted assassinations in Belfast in the early 1970s. Hearing the song recently, by Christy Moore, brought it all back to me, because, not just ourselves, but just about everybody in Belfast and Northern Ireland who lived through those times has been touched by such a shooting or other instance of violence associated with the “Troubles”. This song, too, attracts quite a few hits on my website. Listen if you can to Sean Mone who does a great a capella version.  Anyway, here’s my take. [insert song Rosalita and Jack Campbell.]

That has been the first postcard from Quotidia. And isn’t it peculiarly Irish that the postcards are longer than the Letters From Quotidia. Ah well! Our next edition of postcards will feature Mark on fiddle for a fine rendition of The King and Queen of the Fairies. I’ve long loved and performed Christy Moore’s rousing ballad about the Spanish Civil War, Viva La Quinta Brigada, and this will be our second offering. Songs about the sea are a big feature in our sets and Jim Monaghan excels at singing these. The Mermaid  is our third item for postcards. Last, I present Gentle Annie (not the Tommy Makem version, but instead that of Stephen Foster.) Like many another song, it travelled to Australia where it acquired local lyrics by an Australian thresher from over a century ago by the name of Lame Jack Cousens of Springhurst, Victoria.  So, join me, then, for another foray into the fabulous arena that is, folk music. 

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

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

Microphone (for many of the songs) Shure SM58

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

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.

I play an Ashton MDE200 Mandolin on “Rosalita and Jack Campbell

Letters From Quotidia Episode 4 Foss Hill (The Old Comedian)

Foss Hill: The Old Comedian 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.  This, the fourth instalment, is titled Foss Hill: The Old Comedian, where the protagonist discovers that his time in the sun is over.

What happens when the ground shifts, when you misjudge your audience, when you fail to notice that the fashion has changed? Being a Baby Boomer and transitioning into the twilight, I feel particularly empathetic towards those old guys who wowed them at the pubs and clubs around the English-speaking world in the 60s and 70s: the old comedians.

Then things began to change: a certain correctness began to infiltrate. Is there anything more frightening or difficult than standing up in front of a crowd and trying to make them laugh? (Well, standing in front of a crowd and trying to get them to applaud your song maybe comes close). The ground has shifted under me from time to time but lately it has been happening more often than I would like.

Plato hadn’t much time for comedy: according to my trusty guide, Wikipedia- he asserted that the Guardians of the state should avoid laughter, “‘for ordinarily when one abandons himself to violent laughter, his condition provokes a violent reaction.’ “The po-faced philosopher goes on to say that comedy should be tightly controlled if one wants to achieve the ideal state. I can think of a few politicians who would vote for that legislation. Obviously, tyrants everywhere and at every time have followed his strictures.  The earliest recollection I have of being reduced to violent spasms of laughter was when I was about twelve or so. I was reading one of the early editions of MAD magazine and I can’t recall now, what it was that set me off, but my mother rushed into the room to see what was wrong, dropping a casserole which shattered on the wooden floor. The noises I was making, she later said, were like nothing she had ever heard from me. Why is it that I can remember details like the casserole dish but cannot, however much I try, recall the content of the magazine which had sent me into paroxysms of laughter?

  But I loved the irreverent attitude the comic adopted then, and wherever I encounter this attitude in print or broadcast or in a live venue, I am still prone to lose control. But, satire goes back a long way. My old mate, Aristophanes had this to say about Cleon, the political leader of Athens in his play, The Knights Hit him, hit him, hit the villain, hateful to the cavalry,/Tax-collecting, all-devouring monster of a lurking thief!/Villain, villain! I repeat it, I repeat it constantly, / With good reason since this thief reiterates his villainy. Old Comedy, eh!   

Dear listener, have you ever been at a boring “do” of one sort or another and, upon leaving, uttered the words “I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening” I know I have, but I’m too well-bred to imitate Groucho Marx who extended the polite fiction thus-“I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening” but this wasn’t it.” the Greeks have a word for it, of course, – paraprosdokian which means “against expectation”. We just call them “one-liners” and I can’t get enough of them. I’m probably too lazy to take the time to savour the subtleties of longer works such as Alexander Pope’s The Rape of the Lock but Homer Simpson I can cope with: “If I could just say a few words… I’d be a better public speaker.”

I can cope with couplets, too. A newspaper in England ran a competition asking for a rhyme with the most romantic first line… but the least romantic second line. Try these out for size: I love your smile, your face, and your eyes / Damn, I’m good at telling lies! Or My love, you take my breath away. /What have you stepped in to smell this way? I know, don’t give up my day job…mmm, hold on, I don’t have one anymore!  So, I wrote a song about an old comedian: his name? I’ll spell it: F.O.S.S. H.I.L.L. Foss Hill. Fossil. Groan-worthy, isn’t it? The song was written in 1998 after I attended a show featuring several British comedians, all of them pretty long in the tooth, at The Henry Lawson Club, Werrington, in Sydney’s outer west. Now, coincidentally, Lawson was an accomplished comedic writer. In his poem St Peter he imagines himself in Heaven and knows that he’ll get a fair hearing from a bloke used to tramping round Palestine He won’t try to get a chorus/ Out of lungs that’s worn to rags, /Or to graft the wings on shoulders/That is stiff with humpin’ swags. /But I’ll rest about the station/Where the work-bell never rings, /Till they blow the final trumpet/ And the Great Judge sees to things.

I’ve a good idea that Henry Lawson would have approved of the old comedians, as laughter echoed around the smoke-filled room in the club named in his honour. Such smoke-filled rooms are no longer widely available, alas, nor are comedians of the old school found any more in the comedy venues of this city. In the song coming up now, you will hear about a comedian who knows the time has come to give it all away. And, as I felt the ground shifting under me, I knew it was time, too, for me to gracefully (or grumpily) depart: [insert song Foss Hill: The Old Comedian] Join me next time for an examination of the topic “Changes” where we’ll wander through a couple of creation myths, look at a Grecian urn and listen to verse from a couple of poets as well as listening to a piano ballad to end our session.

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

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

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 3 Cannery Row

Photo by James Wheeler on Pexels.com

Cannery Row 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. This is the third letter of the series, entitled, Cannery Row, where we journey from library vans to ancient Greek battlegrounds to an 18th Century Irish poet lamenting over the fate of a dead bird at the side of a lake 

I used the phrase” elsewhere in the English-speaking world” in my last podcast. The listener may deduce also, that I was born in Ireland- Northern Ireland to be more precise, and in the small coastal village of Cushendall in County Antrim to be exact. The short novel by John Steinbeck provides the title and is the starting point for the song you’ll hear at the end of the podcast. Juxtaposed with the rich engagement shown by the characters of the Monterrey wharfs is the constrained and feeble existence of the persona of this song who makes T.S. Eliot’s J Alfred Prufrock seem a dashing, devil-may-care figure in comparison.

I began writing this song in 1982 after catching a glimpse of myself reflected in the windows of the brand-new library in Cushendall, where the line “.…my cheek on one shoulder I walk past the shelves of the library just before dark…” came unbidden into my mind. Before that, we booklovers had waited patiently for the mobile library van to arrive at the car-park beside the old watering trough. It came from Ballymena, twenty-odd miles up the road and well outside the world of the Glens of Antrim. Then, we eagerly mounted the steps to peruse the few shelves where, perhaps, something of interest or value might hide. You know, I felt a pang of loss when the mobile library van disappeared.

I’m not sure the proliferation of books made possible by the permanent structure, compensated for the shared camaraderie of those diverse yet grimly determined people who gathered for years in stoical anticipation for the arrival of that magical van containing- books- from the outer world. A pang of nostalgia swept over me when I saw the library van scene from the film Billy Elliot and I wonder what the future holds for libraries of the sort I grew up with in our brave new world of instant information.

I feel much more comfortable in antiquity, where information was hard-won and is best embodied by the legend of the Greek messenger, Pheidippides, who ran the 26 miles from Marathon to Athens in 490 BC with the news of the Athenian victory over the Persian forces of Darius. Ten years later his son, Xerxes, attempted to avenge the defeat of Darius. His campaign gave rise to that iconic symbol of heroic resistance against overwhelming odds- the battle of Thermopylae- where, outnumbered 20 to 1, the Spartans held the Persians at bay to the last man, under the leadership of Leonidas, their king. The poet Simonides has left us with a few terse lines of poetry which have been a reminder to generations ever since of the courage of men who make the ultimate sacrifice for their country: Stranger passing by, tell the Lakedaimonians/ Here we lie, having obeyed their orders. And, although the Greek forces lost the battle at Thermopylae, they defeated Xerxes fleet at the battle of Salamis and this ushered in the Classical Age on which so much of western civilisation is based. I’m pretty sure most males, like me, feel a certain loss, not to have experienced war. Is this an atavistic urge, I wonder?

But, back to the song, Cannery Row: it is inspired by the Steinbeck novel of the same name. The Moonglow Quintet, mentioned in the song, is based on a band, which played old standards and certainly nothing written after the year 1959. I heard them plying their trade, only once, in a small time-warped club among the cane fields of North Queensland in 1992 where, improbably, they became the inspiration for the bridge of the song which I had started writing a decade previously. Songwriting 101 tells us that you do not mix up tenses or pronouns but this song does all that- I knew it as I was writing it but I did not amend it as I felt the listener could navigate the switching points of view because we all do it all the time in the space inside the skull where past, present, future, I, you and them are swirling and churning all the time- or is it just me? In a novel, or even a short story, it would be annoying if not confusing.

The miniature form that is the song can, at times, cope with shifting, lurching views. I would like to preface the 6/8 tune you’re about to hear with a few lines from the poet Seamus Heaney in his translation of the poem The Yellow Bittern from the Irish of the 18th Century poet with the splendidly euphonious name- Cathal Buí Mac Giolla Ghunna because I, like Mack and the boys from Cannery Row, find the prospect of life without the consolations of wine and its multifarious related potions unbearable: The poet finds the yellow bird dead at the loughside and thinks about its fate which he ascribes to thirst, not hunger. The woman I love says to give it up now/ Or else I’ll go to an early grave,/ But I say no and keep resisting/ For taking drink’s what prolongs your days./ You saw for yourself a while ago/ What happened to the bird when its throat went dry;/ So my friends and neighbours, let it flow: / You’ll be stood no rounds in eternity. [insert song Cannery Row]

If you get a chance, seek out this fine poem in translation by the great poet Seamus Heaney. That’s been Cannery Row, the third instalment in the podcast series, Letters From Quotidia. Next, we’ll join an old comedian as he fails to negotiate the shifting sands of our censorious new world. Come join us.

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. Mark Dougherty, freelance Musical Director and composer, former student of mine from Ballymena Academy and longtime friend and present day collaborator in various musical enterprises, assisted in the composition of the song, Cannery Row.

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

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

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.