Letters From Quotidia Episode 81 The Holy Ground

Letters From Quotidia Episode 81 The Holy Ground

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.

Get ready to trim those mainsails and bend your back to the capstan. Or are you going to stand with sloped arms as comrades bury your commander in the dead of night. Both these tasks are more enticing than the remaining option: to be chained below decks, a convict bound for Australia, with rotting food and the unendurable stench of foul water, overflowing excrement with the very real prospect of not completing the voyage alive.

It is 1816, a sailing ship limps past Roche’s Point, its rigging all torn. Exhausted mariners, returning after months at sea, perform their duties in desultory fashion but begin to perk up as they round Spike Island and spot the rows of terraces rising above the quay in Cove. They swarm ashore and make for the places of entertainment for lonely and thirsty sailors in the section of town known as The Holy Ground. Soon they make the rafters roar with their shouts and songs, calling for strong ale and porter as the serving girls move among them, sometimes tumbling into the willing lap of a lusty tar.

Meanwhile, further to the north a popular young graduate of Trinity College, Dublin, called Charles Wolfe, is putting the finishing touches to his manuscript of a poem destined to become one of the most memorised throughout the English-speaking world. I refer, of course, to The Burial of Sir Thomas Moore, after Corruna,  and give the opening and closing lines here, Not a drum was heard, not a funeral note,/As his corse to the rampart we hurried;/Not a soldier discharged his farewell shot/O’er the grave where our hero we buried./We buried him darkly at dead of night,/The sods with our bayonets turning;/By the struggling moonbeam’s misty light/And the lantern dimly burning.//No useless coffin enclosed his breast,/Nor in sheet nor in shroud we wound him,/But he lay like a warrior taking his rest/With his martial cloak around him./…But half of our heavy task was done/When the clock struck the hour for retiring;/And we heard the distant and random gun/That the foe was sullenly firing./Slowly and sadly we laid him down,/From the field of his fame fresh and gory;/We carved not a line, and we raised not a stone,/But left him alone with his glory.

Little did the poet know what an impact his poem would have throughout the world, and little did he know that just seven years later, he would find his rest in Old Church Cemetery outside Cobh, at age 31, having died of consumption. In due course, he would be joined by Sir James Roche Verling, personal physician to Napoleon Bonaparte during his exile on St Helena, also, Fredrick Daniel Parslow, VC, the first member of the Mercantile Marine to receive the Victoria Cross and the remains of 193 victims of RMS Lusitania, sunk by a German torpedo in 1915 with a loss of over 1,100 lives. This town was the first and last port of call of RMS Titanic on her maiden voyage in 1912.

This port also served to transport prisoners to the penal colonies of Australia. Robert Hume, writing in The Irish Examiner of March 10, 2015, explained the circumstances surrounding the first transport: In March 1791, Henry Browne Hayes, Sherriff of Cork City, was put in charge of arranging the first transportation of Irish convicts to New South Wales. For the trip, he chose the Queen – a small, three-masted square-rigged vessel… For the next five months, prisoners and soldiers alike had to endure rancid food, and the stench of foul water and excrement. Each convict had only 18 inches of space to sleep in… within eight months, only 50 of the 122 male convicts were still alive… An enquiry into what had gone wrong unearthed scandal upon scandal. Captain Owen had purchased from Cork merchants the cheapest possible food for the crossing, but charged the Navy as much as he thought he could get away with… In April 1801, exactly 10 years after the Queen had sailed from Cork, the organizer of this monumental cock-up, Sir Henry Browne Hayes, was brought to trial for abducting a wealthy heiress. He was found guilty, but instead of the death penalty, the judge showed “mercy” – by transporting him, appropriately enough, to Botany Bay.

The Holy Ground is a powerful trope. In Exodus 3:5, the episode of the burning bush, God tells Moses to take off his sandals as he is standing on holy ground.  In my mind, and in the lyrics of songs I have written, it represents a place of power, of belonging, and of solace. Variously, it has been the Glens of Antrim or Aruba, that small island in the Caribbean, but, for a long time now, more than half my life, it’s been Australia. I think, too, parents seek to “ground” their children in wisdom, sometimes by offering advice prefaced by statements such as, when I was your age. Older children will ask parents for insights such as, what was it like when you were a kid?

When my first-born son died in 1989, aged 15, in a motorbike accident, I hadn’t had the time to offer much at all in the way of sage advice and he didn’t live long enough to seek information about a long-distant past. The phrase, when I was older than you, tells of all the years he will never experience, all the sights he will never see, all the sounds he will never hear, and alas, all the love he will never give or receive.[insert song]

For our next letter we will examine the allure of Saturday night and its link to the ancient Roman feast of Saturnalia. The Poet Catullus makes an appearance. According to an anecdote preserved by Suetonius, Julius Caesar did not deny that Catullus’s lampoons left an indelible stain on his reputation, but when Catullus apologized, he invited the poet for dinner the very same day. Brave man! Another poet, the American Langston Hughes provides a demotic salute to the dynamism of Saturday night. So bring your anecdotes of memorable Saturday nights to the honky-tonk in Quotidia- and they don’t even have to be true (forgivable, surely) but they must be entertaining!

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 20

Letters From Quotidia Postcards Edition 20

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, the Postcards edition, number 20, a podcast by Quentin Bega where you will hear Banter, a traditional Irish folk group from Sydney’s outer west, present four 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: So, I found, hidden in the shambles that is my digital filing system, a couple of Irish tunes with which I will start this latest postcard. I have lost the name of the first tune and I think the second is called, The Kettle Boils Over, but I’m not going to bet the house on it. Irish tunes and, to a lesser extent, songs, have variant titles. (And doesn’t that adjective “variant” have a greater heft in these times of COVID?). At any rate, I’m not too distressed at this loss of information– which is often over-rated in any case, and can be useless -or, indeed, misleading in a few instances. Can I hear two cheers for ignorance? The instruments here are fiddle, mandolin and guitar featuring Mark, Jim and me, respectively. Sam also batters the bodhran in the background. D’ye like the alliteration? And away we go- [insert tunes]

Shelter: Part of our repertoire since the mid-1990s, this song gets more and more dislocated from the realities of contemporary Australian official government policy, where refugees (designated as such by the UN) languish in off-shore detention camps. At the time of writing a family who had integrated into a regional community in Queensland, is still behind bars on Christmas Island having been detained by Home Affairs for deportation to Sri Lanka since March 5th 2018. Their two children were born in Australia but, even with community support, this doesn’t seem to make any difference. Written by Eric Bogle, one of our songwriting heroes, the sentiments expressed herein are closer to the hearts of many Australians than the callous real-politik practised by our major political parties. Although, to be fair, Kristina Keneally, Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Shadow Minister for Home Affairs, and Shadow Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, has been making statements supportive of the family in recent days. Jim sings Shelter. May it prove true for the detainees on Christmas Island and elsewhere.[insert song]

I’m Not a Merry Ploughboy: In some ways, this song is a companion piece to Paddy Went Home Today. It was written around the same time (1995ish) and features a working man in Sydney. This character, however, springs not from an anecdote or acquaintance but rather is a product of pure (or should that be, fevered, imagination). In SoundCloud, where I also have a site, it is quite popular. It was given an outing or two at the Henry Lawson Club where the band used to play regularly in the mid-1990s. It was going to be re-introduced for a new audience at the Penrith Gaels in outer-western Sydney, but, of course, COVID put paid to that. And, when we get round to recording  our usual folk ensemble version, featuring guitar, mandolin, fiddle and bodhran, I’ll update it here. Until such time, here is a demo rendition when I sang with my guitar and overdubbed mandolin and tenor banjo from about the time when the song was conceived. [insert song]

Paddy Went Home Today: I wrote this in the mid-1990s.  It was inspired by an anecdote by one of the group during a refreshment break (our rehearsals often feature such breaks, which we deem necessary- for our mental and emotional well-being, of course).  We were chatting about “characters” we had encountered in our working lives. One of these characters was a sheet metal worker encountered in the mid-1970s in inner-Sydney. This guy would slope off to the pub at morning smoko for a “cure”.  Often enough he would be missing in action when the foreman looked for him later. We revived the song  when we were asked to act as hosts of the folk club at The Penrith Gaels in outer-western Sydney a few years back. This version is a Band-in-a-Box demo I recorded a couple of years ago. I’ll update this with the current, acoustic version featuring guitar, mandolin, fiddle and bodhran in the not-too-distant-future. Although, that hyphenated compound adjective seems more and more to be morphing in meaning to…never. [insert song]

Next week, the postcards edition gets the keys of the door as it turns 21. (Is that still a thing, I wonder?) In the US, or parts of it, it signifies being able to drink alcohol legally and historically it denoted the transition from boy to man for noble males who were able to be knighted. But, now…anyway, I digress, the next instalment of postcards belies the false dawn of this one- what with me discovering the tunes to create the variety of the first dozen postcards. COVID has meant that we haven’t rehearsed or recorded for well over a year, so I’m left with songs I have recorded and songs that I’ve covered in lockdown that rightly belong to other band members. Here’s hoping that the situation changes for the better in the times ahead- otherwise you’re stuck with me. So when next we meet, come into the snug, I’ve got a guitar, and, if you buy me a drink, I’ll sing you a song.

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 80 Any Old Song/Dancing House

Letters From Quotidia Episode 80 Any Old Song/Dancing House

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 80th entry has a double-barrelled name because it is a portmanteau song. The first barrel? Any Old Song. The second? Dancing House. The musical ideas just seemed to seek one another out, hence the slash dividing one from the other. Now, it’s not often that I quote copiously from a learned article with footnotes and citations. In fact, this is a first- I usually just make stuff up! So, I’ll let the following adaptation from an article by one of my correspondents, Henryk K Flostermann, speak for itself:

Records show that The Dancing House was established on the banks of the Mississippi in the French Quarter of New Orleans in 1816 by an Irish associate of the pirate Jean Lafitte. His name is lost in the mists of time but one source of dubious provenance names him as Ian Chell, an adventurer who fled Ireland after the failed rising of 1798. The same source indicates that he fought in the Battle of New Orleans and, as a reward for services rendered, was given a goodly sum of money with which he established a New World version of the old Irish ‘shebeen”. The structure overlooked the river and its original name was written in green paint and in Gaelic. It had a notorious reputation and was shut down on several occasions. It passed through several hands in the century that it was in existence.

Its use has been variously described as a brothel, a dance venue, a haunt for smugglers and bootleggers, a safe house for the underground railway during the slave years, and a social club for immigrants from various parts of Europe. Pre-eminent among its accomplishments was the quality of the music, which is a continuous motif in all its history and incarnations. The end of the fabled Dancing House came in the late summer of 1916. At this time, it was owned by a rogue of the first water; one “Colonel” James Ponsonby, a veteran of the Boer War who won it in a crooked poker game from its syphilitic previous owner. A fracas erupted between Ponsonby (with his henchmen) and a group of Irish navvies- who were fired up by the events of Easter 1916 in Dublin and its aftermath.

A blaze broke out and the structure burned to the ground. The glare of the inferno was seen for miles that fateful night. There is a curious epilogue to this incident that has kept the legend green (in more than one sense). The facade overlooking the Mississippi detached from the rest of the building and fell into the river where it floated downstream. Clinging to the wreckage was an Irish navvy called, Charlie Brymit, a native of the Antrim glens. How he got the facade to land, or where, is a matter for conjecture. What is important is that he did: for the facade preserved the original name in faded green paint (and all its other names in English and other languages.)

An interesting fact is that Dancing House remained its name in every language- except under its last owner. Ponsonby had renamed it The Britannia Arms in a vindictive attempt to expunge its origins. Loosie May, a young Southern lass, the spirited heiress of one of the large landowners of the Lake Ponchchantrain area takes up the story in a diary entry dated September 23, 1916: “A most curious sight- a waggon drawn by four mules pulled in in front of the coach-house today. A bedraggled Irishman, half delirious was with a carter I know of vaguely. He asked for assistance to unload what looked to be a large pile of waterlogged planks. I gave orders to have it done. He begged for payment in advance saying he had promised the men ten dollars. I cannot fathom why, but I did! More on this curious transaction tomorrow.”

Alas, we cannot know more, for the diary pages from this date on are missing. The following notes from the diary of an anonymous folklorist may shed further light on the matter“Shrevesport 2/2/22. Home of Handly Moore. Negro music- guitar very primitive. Stories of share-cropping. Love. Nothing new. Odd anecdote about a ritual burning. Mad Irishman of Moore’s acquaintance. Owner of illicit house with drink. Bizarre opening ceremony. Nailed up a plank written in a foreign language at front entrance. Gathered friends (Moore among them) outside at midnight. Another plank placed in oil-drum. Burned to ashes which are buried at crossroads!”

Every business, vocation, occupation- what you will- has its myths. One of the most elusive yet persistent among establishments which are more than mere drinking dens, concerns the original signage of The Dancing House. In locations as scattered as Valparaiso, Rotterdam, Chicago, Durban, Skopje, Kalgoorlie and Belfast I have come across stories about The Dancing House. It is a modern version of splinters from the One True Cross! The owners swear that they have one of the sections of the original facade. They confide that the “real” artefact is concealed behind the visible name- embedded in the fabric of the building, for instance. In no case have I been favoured with a glimpse of the “relic”. Although, in several cases, the name has been emblazoned in cheap glitter or garish neon or a pathetic attempt at a “weathered” sign- obvious fakes! The ambience of such places is such that no one could seriously imagine that they are true offspring of the original. Still, I have been in a few establishments where it would be churlish to believe otherwise than what has been claimed. Maybe you’ve been there too. Such places are welcoming, tolerant, musical and magical. & I may have been in one or two myself! [insert song]

For our next expedition we’re heading for The Holy Ground- not to be confused with sacred ground, so if you are presently kitting yourself out with garb for a pilgrimage- think again. You will be less likely to stand out in the crowd at one of the many hostelries we will visit if you put on party clothes. We also look at the convict experience of transportation and we may recite a poem about a  military burial after a battle of the Peninsular War in 1809. One you may have learned by heart yourself, if you’re of a certain age and background.

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 79 Deadhead

Letters From Quotidia Episode 79 Deadhead

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.

And what is extraordinary about this post entitled Deadhead? Well, it is about just one band. The podcast name is a giveaway. You’ve probably guessed it’s not about the withered remains of a rose or a boring, unenterprising person. And why would I want to devote time or energy to someone who gets a free pass to a concert? Of course, it’s about a lifelong fan of a quintessentially Californian band.

The song for this entry is an imagined account of a fan following the career of The Grateful Dead from the San Francisco event of March 3rd 1968, I remember getting off the bus on Haight Street that Spring day, pushing my way through the crowds to see what all the excitement was about (I didn’t know- did anyone? -that the Dead were parking a flatbed truck across Haight Street to play a free gig!)  to the last appearance of Jerry Garcia, singer and lead guitarist, at Soldier Field in Chicago in 1995, People ask me what my favourite show was, and I always say the next one. But this is actually one of my favourites. The mood before, during, and after the show seemed to be one of unity and healing…The masterpiece for me was “So Many Roads” I remember leaving the show on a high that lasted for days. It would have been nice to see where we could have taken that. In the end, though, how do you rate a miracle.

Here’s David Paumgarten, writing in The New Yorker of November 26, 2012: The Dead inspired many lamentable bumper stickers, but one good one captured how it felt, and feels, to be under their sway: “Who are the Grateful Dead, and why do they keep following me?” Why do they keep following me around? I’ve never been to San Francisco, don’t much rate the hippie lifestyle and generally value brevity above prolixity. But slip on a pair of good earphones and stream one of the great concerts, such as the one at Fox Theatre in Atlanta, on November 30, 1980, and there might be a glimmer of an answer to the question: who are The Grateful Dead?

For me, a guitarist and mandolin player, the answer was Gerry Garcia. As a writer, though, I knew about the non-playing member of the band, Robert Hunter, whose collaborations with Garcia have produced some of the most memorable songs: I’ll mention a trio of greats:  Scarlet Begonias, which is usually linked in concert to Fire on the Mountain and which fans usually refer to as Scarlet Fire. Begonias has the memorable lines It seldom turns out the way it does in the song, but my favourites are the final lines, Strangers stopping strangers/ Just to shake their hand, Everybody is playing/ In the Heart of Gold Band/The Heart of Gold Band.

1987’s, A Touch of Grey, gains more relevance for me year after year. The verses are non-sequential litanies of largely negative images such as, Cows giving kerosene/Kid can’t read at seventeen/ The words he knows are all obscene, but the images of the verses are redeemed by the chorus, I will get by/I will survive, which morphs into We will get by/We will survive. The last of the trio is Terrapin Station, which I will not attempt to explicate other than to say it’s a sixteen-minute long, sprawling, rococo, musical- and here I’ll use a technical term- mess! The lyrics are derivative, obscure and somewhat pretentious, and yet…yet, I do not skip past it on a playlist and I will often seek it out as I search for sleep on many a night. Go figure.

But I can’t end without mentioning, by name, some members of the group who have been there for years, Bob Weir- singer, guitarist, writer and vocalist; Phil Lesh, bass player extraordinaire, Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart, drummers of excellence, Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, Keith and Donna Godchaux, keyboards/vocalist, Brent Myland, Tom Constanten and Vince Welnick, keyboards.

I must mention the other writer associated with the band, John Perry Barlow, who wrote memorable songs with Bob Weir such as Estimated Prophet and Throwing Stones. Barlow wrote 25 Principles of Adult Behaviour in 1977, just before his 30th birthday, and I’ll give some of them here, in place of my usual verse, to end this entry: 1 Be patient. No matter what./2 Don’t badmouth: Assign responsibility, not blame. Say nothing of another you wouldn’t say to him./3 Never assume the motives of others are, to them, less noble than yours are to you./5 Don’t trouble yourself with matters you truly cannot change./6 Expect no more of anyone than you can deliver yourself./7 Tolerate ambiguity./8 Laugh at yourself frequently./9 Concern yourself with what is right rather than who is right./10 Never forget that, no matter how certain, you might be wrong./12 Remember that your life belongs to others as well. Don’t risk it frivolously./13 Never lie to anyone for any reason./14 Learn the needs of those around you and respect them./15 Avoid the pursuit of happiness. Seek to define your mission and pursue that./16 Reduce your use of the first personal pronoun./17 Praise at least as often as you disparage./18 Admit your errors freely and soon./19 Become less suspicious of joy./20 Understand humility./21 Remember that love forgives everything./22 Foster dignity./23 Live memorably./24 Love yourself./And finally, my personal touchstone, number 25– Endure.[insert song]

Episode 80 of the Letters finds us on the banks of the Mississippi River in a rather strange establishment with a chequered history. It served the demi-monde of New Orleans for over a century but burned to the ground in 1916. But that wasn’t the end- the façade fell into the river and was swept away with one man clinging to the wreckage. Now, there are several curious (some frankly unbelievable) accounts of what happened to the signage which was attached to the façade. But all will be revealed in the next outing on the broad stream that runs through the land of Quotidia.

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

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

Microphone (for many of the songs) Shure SM58

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

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

Letters From Quotidia Episode 78 I Can’t Sleep at Night

Letters From Quotidia Episode 78 I Can’t Sleep at Night

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 do you sleep at night? A different question to: how do you sleep? or, how do you get to sleep? We’re supposed to spend one third of our lives in this state. Of course, as other seniors will tell you, no such luck! Perhaps we are just too aware of the big sleep coming our way and we want to pack more into what waking hours remain. Up to about fifteen years ago, I would occasionally boast about the cleanliness of my soul and the tranquillity of my conscience, and, as evidence, proudly point out that I had never taken a sleeping pill in my life. No, but many a sleeping draught, my wife’s look would wearily whisper: no doubt, caused by my longstanding habit of having a few soothing libations of an evening.

Then things changed. Future shock arrived, at last. In 1971 I had read the Alvin Toffler best-selling book and was fascinated by the concepts he presented. Chief among them was the phrase information overload. The concept has also become known as infobesity, data smog andinfoxication. Too much information renders the understanding of issues and, consequently, the making of decisions, difficult. According to Wikipedia, Information overload occurs when the amount of input to a system exceeds its processing capacity. E-mail remains a major source of information overload, as people struggle to keep up with the rate of incoming messages. As well as filtering out unsolicited commercial messages (spam), users also have to contend with the growing use of email attachments in the form of lengthy reports, presentations and media files.

To say nothing of petty bureaucratic regulations about having to respond to these excrescences within an absurdly short period of time. It seemed to me that the introduction of individual laptops to teachers’ desks produced a work-environment not unlike those of Dickensian clerks chained to their desks in serried rows. According to Lucy Kellaway, One clerk, Benjamin Orchard, wrote the following bitter account of his existence in 1871: We aren’t real men. We don’t do men’s work. Pen-drivers – miserable little pen-drivers – fellows in black coats, with inky fingers and shiny seats on their trousers – that’s what we are. Think of crossing T’s and dotting I’s all day long. No wonder bricklayers and omnibus drivers have contempt for us. We haven’t even health.

The idea that I was little more than a 21st Century version of Benjamin Orchard, lodged in my brain and grew year on year, as micro-managerial strategies replaced previously relaxed and human ways of doing things. And these strategies strangled creativity as teaching became more like painting by numbers than producing the real thing. And I began to sleep less and worry more about…nothing. Generalised anxiety, perhaps. But it irked me. I wasn’t a monster who deserved to lose the peaceful repose of a good night’s sleep: a bit cranky, of course, but no Macbeth! 

Methought I heard a voice cry “Sleep no more!/ Macbeth does murder sleep,” the innocent sleep,/ Sleep that knits up the ravell’d sleave of care,/ The death of each day’s life, sore labour’s bath,/ Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course,/ Chief nourisher in life’s feast. (Macbeth: 2: 2: 32-37) According to the online Shakespeare Navigator site, a “ravell’d sleave” is a tangled skein of thread or yarn. Macbeth uses it as a metaphor for the kind of frustration we experience when we have so many problems that we can’t see the end to any of them.

And we can understand why the Scottish nobleman has such perturbation of spirit- he’d just murdered his kinsman and king who was a guest under the sacred protection of the laws of hospitality. When the knocking at the gates echoes in the courtyard, he starts, How is’t with me, when every noise appalls me?/ What hands are here? ha! they pluck out mine eyes./  Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood/ Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather/ The multitudinous seas incarnadine, / Making the green one red.  (Macbeth: 2: 2: 55-60) Don’t you just weep over the beauty of such language. It’s hard to believe that the info-babble spewing from those micro-managerial mouths and their clacking, snapping keyboards is produced by members of the same species as the Bard. I refer you to the catalogue of dogs, found later in the play. The curs and mongrels outnumber the noble hounds, I fear.

When sleep fails me now, I read poetry of the lighter sort such as this by Eugene Field, Wynken, Blynken, and Nod one night/Sailed off in a wooden shoe,/Sailed on a river of crystal light/Into a sea of dew/“Where are you going, and what do you wish?”/The old moon asked the three./“We have come to fish for the herring-fish/ That live in this beautiful sea;/ Nets of silver and gold have we,”/ Said Wynken,/Blynken,/And Nod./…All night long their nets they threw/To the stars in the twinkling foam,/Then down from the skies came the wooden shoe, /Bringing the fishermen home:/‘Twas all so pretty a sail, it seemed/As if it could not be;/And some folk thought ‘twas a dream they’d dreamed/ Of sailing that beautiful sea/;But I shall name you the fishermen three:/Wynken,/Blynken,/ And Nod. [insert song]

When next you awake in the land of Quotidia, what will you find? Oh, wow! You’re on Haight Street in San Francisco- it’s March 3rd 1968 and you’re looking forward to a free concert by the band The Grateful Dead. You will follow them through concert after concert, year after year, city after city, venue after venue, until you find yourself at Soldier Field in Chicago in 1995- Gerry Garcia’s last hurrah, although Gerry didn’t know it. So, you’ve been at a loose end for the past quarter of a century and more? Maybe you should write a book about it. Or start a band, even one of those tribute efforts. Whatever you choose to do, don’t do nothing. When you look in the mirror in the morning, your eyes don’t deceive you, you are fading away. Do I seem to be hectoring you? No, not really, I think I’m talking to myself.

 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 77 The Silver Frame

Letters From Quotidia Episode 77 The Silver Frame

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.

I once had a camera- one not part of a smart phone-  a snazzy SLR Olympus bought  duty-free in Singapore in January, 1979. I used it for all sorts of shots, black-and-white, landscapes, arty-esque stuff, family portraits, and then it was stolen, on Magnetic Island in December 1989. I never replaced it. The camera on my iPhone is probably much better but I rarely use it, I don’t post to Insta or any other social media site and, instead, just think about what might have been had some low-life not taken the camera that held the last, undeveloped shots of my first-born son who had died six weeks earlier.

What is it about them…Photographs. I mean- the older sort- printed on special paper and placed in albums or behind frames or in glossy magazines, not the digital imposters that feature grinning, gesticulating loons having such a hell of a good time all of the time that they can barely maintain continence- or so it seems to me when my daughter shows me the latest trove from her Facebook page. Susan Sontag, in 1977, wrote that the proliferation of photographic images had created in people a chronic voyeuristic relation to the world around them; and this, mind you, thirty years before the iPhone amplified that to include an overwhelming, self-absorbed narcissism.

My initial dyspeptic comments notwithstanding, I love photographs: LIFE magazine was a feature of our household along with National Geographic when I was growing up and I spent hours with these magazines, imagining the lives and places behind the images. The Yosemite studies of Ansel Adams, Hubble telescope revelations of distant galaxies and underwater vistas of coral reefs and deep-sea creatures are balm for the soul, certainly, but the human condition is revealed more clearly in images involving people such as those from the early years of photography featuring the battlegrounds from the American Civil War and other sepia records from the 19th Century. In the 20th Century, the two epochal collections curated by Edward Steichen at New York City’s MoMA entitled The Family of Man and The Bitter Years inspired one of my favourite poets, Carl Sandburg, to write:

People! flung wide and far, born into toil, struggle, blood and dreams, among lovers, eaters, drinkers, workers, loafers, fighters, players, gamblers. Here are ironworkers, bridge men, musicians, sandhogs, miners, builders of huts and skyscrapers, jungle hunters, landlords, and the landless, the loved and the unloved, the lonely and abandoned, the brutal and the compassionate …If the human face is “the masterpiece of God” it is here, then in a thousand fateful registrations. Faces in crowds, laughing and windblown leaf faces, profiles in an instant of agony, mouths in a dumb-show mockery lacking speech, Some of them are worth a long look now and deep contemplation later.

These collections have found a permanent home at Chateau Clervaux in Luxembourg and this is one of the destinations on my bucket list post-COVID. You’re so tragic, I hear the adrenaline junkies among you sneer- so be it. There are, of course, countless portraits in black and white and colour where a human moment in time is trapped for our perusal and, perhaps, deep contemplation later. In the 21st Century, the appalling image of the planes striking the World Trade Centre has, for me, and many others, I expect, maintained premier position, so far, in the photographic history of this century.

Just how sensitive the use of this iconography proved to be is exemplified by the reaction to the initial album cover of Steve Reichs’ WTC 9/11, written for the Kronos Quartet on the tenth anniversary of the atrocity. The cover shows the twin towers just after the first plane has struck and just before the second is to strike. Phil Kline, a fellow composer, called the original “the first truly despicable classical album cover that I have ever seen. Reich said “It stirred up an enormous controversy that I was absolutely amazed to see”. Others were surprised too. “This is a kind of image we were inundated with for weeks, months, even years after the event,” Anne Midgette wrote in The Washington Post. “Newspapers and magazines and television screens and the covers of books were flooded with pictures of towers being hit, towers burning, towers falling, rescue workers with red-rimmed eyes standing numbly amid the rubble of the towers.” So why, 10 years later, is this cover any different? 

A good question, and I’m not sure there is any easy answer other than to suggest that in the age of instant indignation fuelled and amplified by Twitter and other social media sites, artists have to be very careful about their choices, remain au fait with the technology and be adroit at turning on a dime to avoid the slings and arrows of outrageous tweeters. For some, a photograph is more precious than any material treasure.

In bushfires, the family photo album is taken ahead of the silverware. Although, I must admit that technology enabling images to be saved to the cloud may consign future albums to the flames. The song, The Silver Frame imagines a photograph discovered twenty years after a tragic loss, in the aftermath of the Holocaust: precious, irreplaceable, unrepeatable.[insert song]

Our next snapshot from Quotidia features Future Shock, a concept introduced by Alvin Toffler about fifty years ago now- at the time I thought it was cutting edge. Quotes from that blood-drenched, Scottish, Shakespeare play will occupy us as we discuss insomnia, and, finally, a piece of light verse to inoculate us from the shocks delivered from the future, present and past that will, if everything goes aright, enable us to drift off, gently and sedately, to the land of Nod.

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-writing credit on the song, The Silver Frame. 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 19

Letters From Quotidia Postcards Edition 19

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, the Postcards edition, number 19, a podcast by Quentin Bega where you will hear Banter, a traditional Irish folk group from Sydney’s outer west, present four 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. We’ll start with-

Donegal Danny: Another tale of the sea here. The singer, Sam, always laments when called upon to do it as it is longer that the usual three or four minutes our songs typically occupy. The song, written for The Dubliners by Phil Coulter, one of the great musical talents to come out of Northern Ireland, has, as its narrator, another Old Man of the Sea who could stand alongside Hemmingway’s original. The singer notwithstanding, the rest of the group likes the song, so- democracy rules…or is it, rather, another example of the tyrannising of minorities which seems so in vogue in dictatorships, and in recent times, even such shining examples of democracy as the USA? Usually, Jim takes the lead for songs about sailors and the sea but Sam, in a moment of weakness or when he was in his cups, put his claim to this song and we have held him to it ever since [insert song]

My Last Farewell: Based on the last letter written by Padraig Pearse to his mother, this song was written by the O”Meara brothers (who also penned the well-known song, Grace, about another hero of the 1916 Irish uprising- Joseph Mary Plunkett). This song is often requested on WOW FM radio show, A Touch of Ireland, helmed by Sam Beggs and me, here in the Penrith valley. Poignantly, the song references Pearse’s brother William, who was executed the day following the execution of the Irish rebel leader. William seems to have been executed for his name rather than any significant involvement in the rising. “Willie”, a sculptor, was more involved in running St Edna’s School in Rathfarnam. Padraig, in writing his letter, was not to know that his brother, far from providing solace to the Pearse family, would join him in the ranks of the executed participants in the failed rising that provided the impetus for the founding of the Irish state within a matter of years. Jim sings this moving song as he has done for years in front of audiences. [ insert song]

Follow Me Up to Carlow/Instrumental: According to tradition, the pipers of Fiach McHugh, the protagonist and hero of the song, played this melody as a marching tune for the Irish fighters during the battle of Glenmalure, fought 337 years ago, almost to the day of this posting. That wise oracle Wikipedia tells me, The Battle of Glenmalure (Irish: Cath Ghleann Molúra) took place in Ireland on 25 August 1580 during the Desmond Rebellions. An Irish Catholic force made up of the Gaelic clans from the Wicklow Mountains led by Fiach MacHugh O’Byrne and James Eustace, Viscount Baltinglas of the Pale, defeated an English army under Arthur Grey, 14th Baron Grey de Wilton, at the O’Byrnes’ mountain stronghold of Glenmalure. The lyrics were written by that great Irish scholar and songwriter, P. J. McCall, who also wrote such perennial favourites as Boolavogue and Kelly, the Boy from Killane. This song has long been in my repertoire and the group, Banter, is working up an arrangement (that you can hear below) that is, like so much of our latest ouevre, a work-in-progress. After a few refreshing beverages, we often get to musing about going into a real studio and recording a live, but considerably more rehearsed and  balanced version of our favourite songs…like that is ever going to happen! [insert song]

McAlpine’s Fusiliers/instrumental: Over the years this has proved to be one of the most popular items in our repertoire. Obviously, we enjoy playing whatever song or instrumental we happen to be performing. We play for enjoyment and not for pay. All we ask is a reasonable sound system if we are playing in public. While we won’t make money doing this, we will make craic- and, sure, isn’t that all that matters. Dominic Behan wrote this song (among many other fine examples from the genre) and it captures the essence of the Irish navvies who, in their thousands and tens of thousands built the rail, the roads the tunnels and canals and a lot more of the infrastructure in Britain and farther afield in the Nineteenth Century. Their work rate was prodigious and those who could not keep up  with them could only watch in awe as these mighty workmen bent their backs to the task. In a later Postcard, I have recorded an expanded version of this song but, in this recording, Sam takes the lead. [insert song]

For postcard 20, I found, buried in my chaotically organised digital files, a recording of two Irish tunes, so, we will revert, one last time, to the regime of tunes kicking off  the postcard. A saga about an unfortunate jailbird, entitled I’m Not a Merry Ploughboy follows. Then, Jim will sing an Eric Bogle composition, Shelter, recalling how Australia used to be a haven for people seeking asylum. The postcard concludes with the song, Paddy Went Home, Today, about the final days of a sheet-metal worker in Sydney in the 1970s. So, come along to Quotidia where music always plays, there are no prisons and asylum is always granted.

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 76 It’s Been Taken Away

Letters From Quotidia Episode 76 It’s Been Taken Away

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 first draft of Letter 76 was composed on January 26th, 2016 and, I regret to say, I have had little to add to it in the intervening years. So what did I have to say:

Entry 76: It’s Been Taken Away–  It’s Australia Day. I’ve been tasked with learning how to cook the perfect leg of lamb on the Weber by consulting the experts online, but I’m not going to do that just yet. Procrastination’s at work, yes, but there’s something else. My awareness of aboriginal Australia started almost as soon as I arrived here in Sydney. In September, 1972, I attended an orientation session organised by the NSW Department of Education in Bridge Street. There, one of the presenters recited a litany of Aboriginal place-names: probably a party piece, and, I suspect, plagiarised from the Geoff Mack lyrics to I’ve Been Everywhere

Among the mellifluous recitation were such exotic locations as Adelong Boggabilla Coolangatta Dandenong Ettalong Mooloolaba Murwillumbah Kirribilli Wollondilly Cabramatta, Goondiwindi Parramatta,  Unanderra Wangaratta, Mullumbimby Narrabeen, Kurrajong Narromine Mittagong Billabong and Wollongong. Not that I would be going to any of the places on the list, anytime soon- except for the last in the series, Wollongong, for the next day I found myself on a train to that South Coast city that was to be my home for the next six years. At Warrawong High School in 1973 there was one black face in my Year 8 class. A quiet and withdrawn boy, whose name eludes me now- but it was an anglicised name and not aboriginal.

I later realised that he was part of the stolen generations, but at the time I had no idea. A couple of years later the group I was playing in were part of a support concert for the victims of Pinochet in Chile. Memories of that event are vague, but two incidents stand out: First, I remember a heated exchange between some of the concert organisers and a belligerent aboriginal elder from Nowra who was indignant that we had the time and inclination to support victims of injustice in South America but remained blind to what was going on in Australia to the original Australians.  The truth stung, and my wife, who was working as a secretary in the Department of Community Services, reminded me of the endemic racism she witnessed regularly when matters pertaining to Aboriginal Australians were dealt with.

Second, there was a phoned bomb threat and I remarked to my wife as I bundled her into the car with the kids that it would be ironic to be blown up in Wollongong after surviving Belfast. Returning to Australia in 1988, little had changed, The Royal Commission into Black Deaths in Custody basically said, there are problems here, and lots of them. And, little by little, the truth is getting out. I read Henry Reynolds when I was teaching up near Townsville. He had established the Australian History department at the university there and was documenting the history of the frontier clashes between white settlers and indigenous tribes.

Paul Keating’s Redfern Speech was the catalyst for my getting off my arse and taking out Australian citizenship, which I did, somewhat belatedly, at the beginning of January 1995, with the rest of the family. He optimistically ended, We cannot imagine that the descendants of people whose genius and resilience maintained a culture here through fifty thousand years or more, through cataclysmic changes to the climate and environment, and who then survived two centuries of dispossession and abuse, will be denied their place in the modern Australian nation… I am confident that we will succeed in this decade. Dec 10 1992. Everything hunky-dory then?

Twenty four year later, Stan Grant gained viral reach just this week when the Ethics Centre re-broadcast his 2015 IQ2 off-the cuff speech, where, among other things, he said, starting with a reference to the shameful booing of Adam Goodes, aboriginal sportsman and, ironically, Australian of the Year in 2014, When we heard those boos, we heard a sound that was very familiar to us … we heard a howl of humiliation that echoes across two centuries of dispossession, injustice, suffering and survival. We heard the howl of the Australian dream, and it said to us again, you’re not welcome. Australians all let us rejoice for we are young and free. My people die young in this country We die 10 years younger than the average Australian, and we are far from free. We are fewer than 3 per cent of the Australian population and yet we are 25 per cent — a quarter of those Australians locked up in our prisons. And if you’re a juvenile it is worse, it is 50 per cent. An Indigenous child is more likely to be locked up in prison than they are to finish high school. 

I’ll finish with lines from one of aboriginal Australia’s greatest poets, Oodgeroo Noonuccal, whom I first knew as Kath Walker when I taught poetry to my Year 8 class as the face of that sad boy lives on in my memory, The best of every race/should here find welcome place;/ The colour of his face/ Is no man’s test of worth. Now, thirty years after that Royal Commission, in this year of Our Lord, 2021, to our ongoing shame as Australians, very little has changed: no treaty yet, not even close, but the bureaucrats continue debating whether to remove some of the hanging points still remaining in some of the cells across the state and territory jurisdictions of this land, thirty years after the Royal Commission recommended they be removed forthwith. I wrote this song back in 1996 shortly after I moved into the house that has become our home for the past quarter-century.[insert song]

Are any of you photographers? Which is not always the same question as, do any of you have a smart phone? If so, bring along your gear and we’ll have a look at some of the events and people and places that are worth memorialising by this wonderful art-form that came to its apogee in the twentieth century. And please… Listening, those at the back? No selfies!

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 75 Another Saturday in Limbo

Letters From Quotidia Episode 75 Another Saturday in Limbo

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. One of the marvels you will encounter in this, the 75th letter, is an example of android poetry, fictional in this case but  which will probably become a reality with some robot author claiming the Nobel Prize for Literature shortly before the A.I. singularity claims what humanity has been left to us by…progress. But, while we still have time to natter about things that have engaged the attention of our species for the past few thousand years, let’s talk about the meaning of life, et cetera, as we enter another Saturday in Limbo somewhere in the interior of Quotidia.

Entry 75: Another Saturday in Limbo It’s simple for the atheists among us. There’s nothing. That’s it. That’s all. Believers of one sort or another, on the other hand, postulate one or more states of post-mortem being such as the eastern concept of Nirvana or the five abodes of Thomas Aquinas: heaven, hell, purgatory, limbo of children and limbo of the Patriarchs. To this I would add those empty hours when everything worthwhile seems to be in abeyance. It is particularly sharp on Saturdays when the drudgery of the work-a-day week is over and the promises of the day telegraphed so alluringly in the days prior begin to wither under the gravity of listlessness and inertia that so often descends on the blank-eyed zombies of the dragging eons that seem to stretch out before them on what should be the best day of the week.

As I write this, though, I wonder if the capacity to be so intensely bored is a passing phenomenon-   indeed, an artefact of the past. Today’s netizen has only to glance at a smart phone or watch and give a curt command to the digital assistant to be instantly diverted by whatever whim is within reach. But when I wrote this song, in 1982, no such diversions were available. Reading books was always- and still, though to a lesser extent, alas-an antidote to the poisonous ennui that I seem to absorb through the pores.

I first read The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in 1979 and later devoured the BBC Radio Four adaptation when it was broadcast. Then the 1981 TV series eventuated, and I looked down with superior disdain upon those who had only just discovered the wonderful creations of Douglas Adams. One of my favourites was Marvin, the Paranoid Android. In him, I found a template for my own angst. Here, he speaks, “I didn’t ask to be made: no one consulted me or considered my feelings in the matter. I don’t think it even occurred to them that I might have feelings.”

Wikipedia supplies the true horror of his situation.  As the menial labourer on the Heart of Gold spaceship, he grew immensely resentful of the insistence of his…masters… that he open doors, check airlocks and pick up pieces of paper. He reserved a particular contempt for the sentient doors, despising their blissful satisfaction with existence. It is, of course, my practice to include bits of poems in these journal entries. So, here’s a stanza from a lullaby composed by Marvin which has the title How I Hate the Night, Now I lay me down to sleep/Try to count electric sheep/Sweet dream wishes you can keep/How I hate the night.

And how I hate the night. When you snap awake at three in the morning and start to remember lines from Aubade by Phillip Larkin. I work all day and get half-drunk at night. That was me for over forty years. Taking refuge in prayer does not overwhelm that dry voice referring to that vast, moth-eaten musical brocade created to pretend we never die. In fifty lines, taking a little over three minutes to recite, you can listen to the poet explicating our deepest existential fear on YouTube.

Well, back then it was Saturday morning, and I was, as they say, at a loose end. My wife and kids were visiting her mother and I was alone with a guitar and feeling trapped. An Australian friend, visiting the year before had envied the setting in which I lived: in the heart of the Glens of Antrim, looking out across Red Bay to Garron Point. My response? Yeah, it’s great-if you like living in a postcard. So, I stared out the kitchen window from the flatness of my postcard and made myself a cup of instant coffee. I looked out on the turned soil of the front yard, not much larger than a bed-sheet. I was preparing the ground for…? Who knows? But it seemed a good idea at the time.

I sat down and started strumming chords on the guitar, a fairly usual ploy to break the boredom. Searching in the fridge for something to snack on, I saw a block of processed cheese on which rested my younger son’s half-chewed teething rusk. And I was bored no more. I had been reading in a recent Sunday supplement about the pop images of Mel Ramos and one, in particular, had stuck in my mind- his image of a nude pin-up poised on a giant block of Velveeta processed cheese, raised on one arm, her head turned over her shoulder towards the viewer, her elaborate, coiffed hairstyle proudly on show.

You probably know it- he first drew this in 1965 and reprised it as recently as 2004. An example of pop-art sensibility at its best. If Andy Warhol or Roy Lichtenstein appeal to you, then Mel is worth checking out. His nudes adorn bottle tops, cocktail glasses, cigars, as well as emerging from peeled bananas and lurking behind sauce bottles. I sat down at the table and started writing this song. I finished it just before my wife returned with the kids. And what are you looking so pleased about, she demanded,as she manoeuvred the pram in through the door. [insert song]

In our next visit to Quotidia we will encounter an indigenous people who have transitioned from the heaven of their dream-time stories to a hell of frontier wars and colonial dispossession- who are presently suffering in a Limbo where things just seem to go round and round in circles of violence and marginalisation and despair but who are persevering and reaching for the light as some of their leaders call out the injustices and are determined to form a wide coalition of support and forge a way forward.

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 74 Another Mother’s Day

Letters From Quotidia Episode 74 Another Mother’s Day

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. Know any mothers? Of invention, perhaps? Or what about that mother-prefixed expletive in trochaic dimeter so beloved of rap composers? Enough of the introductory interrogatives, I hear you exclaim. Okay, so we’ll get right to it. But it will have to start with a question that may or may not be rhetorical, depending on who and where you are. And perhaps, when. So, without further ado, let’s get to the question:

Entry 74: Another Mother’s Day– Do you know any saints? Perhaps you’re related to one or yearn for that crown yourself. Me? Not one or likely to be one but I can claim kinship to one- if I am to believe my aunt Maggie Mc Killop, who took the name Sister Celine when she joined an order of nuns. She was a missionary in Africa for many years who later became the mother superior of a convent in Ireland. She wrote to me in the late 1980s, when I had returned to Australia and she had retired from active life to a convent at Rostrevor, Northern Ireland, that she was pretty sure that we were connected to the founder of the Brown Joeys, more formally known as the sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart- one Mary MacKillop.

She thought that I might be interested in the connection. At the time, I thought little of it but my interest in the matter has revived sporadically over the years since: in 1995 with Mary MacKillop’s beatification by Pope John Paul II and in 2010 with her subsequent canonisation by Pope Benedict XVI. If I cared more for genealogy, I might now be able to confirm the supposed connection, but I am happy enough with just the possibility of falling within the penumbra of a saint (if one should use such a lightless metaphor in reference to nuns).

Sometimes, lightless is right, though- the Magdalene laundries have a spotted reputation. These institutions were run by various orders of nuns, among others, where young women: those pregnant, those dispossessed and those distressed, were put to work in harsh conditions where love was often hidden behind the billowing vapour, clanking rollers and shouted orders in places as far afield as Australia, America, Britain and Ireland. It’s only in the last 20 years or so that the last one closed. The truth of what happened in these places is probably as complex and as various as the times, the places and the people involved: but not likely to be, as the most vociferous critics aver, comparable to a Nazi concentration camp, nor were they merely a soothing refuge for unfortunate girls and women as the defenders of the laundries would have it.

Our family experience of nuns has been generally positive: my wife, though remembering with ire rulers across the hand as a child because she had mispronounced an Irish word, nevertheless waited for nearly a year until Sister Margaret of the Good Samaritans was able to baptise our younger daughter rather than allow one of the time-serving priests of the parish we were living in at the time to perform the rite.

I still laugh at an anecdote about my aunt Maggie, with bottles of illicit poteen- that most potent Irish moonshine- she was bringing back for the nuns in her convent in Cork secreted in the voluminous folds of her religious garments making a clinking, clacking racket as she ran for her train through the Dublin station attracting the stares of bemused onlookers. In 1971, as a wedding gift, she gave us a set of paintings by Nigerian artists which has adorned the walls of our residences, on and off, for almost 50 years now.

Nuns, generally, are more connected to the communities they serve than their male counterparts, they often have a better sense of humour and, if the church is to survive in the long run, it will be down to these redoubtable women rather than the popes, cardinals, bishops and priests who cling desperately to their outmoded privileges. And so, to the nun that this entry’s song is all about- Mother Teresa. She has been the subject of hagiography and vilification as one might expect concerning one of the true icons of this age.

The song looks at one part of her interior life- the dark night of the soul. David Van Biena in an article for “Time” magazine (August 23, 2007) wrote in fascinating detail about the contradictions at the heart of her life and ministry revealed through her letters to her confessors, many of them preserved against her wishes (she had requested that they be destroyed but was overruled by her church). They reveal that for the last nearly half-century of her life she felt no presence of God whatsoever. This woman could have provided a template for characters in existentialist angst-ridden dramas from Ibsen to Beckett where all that can be seen is “an arid landscape from which the deity has disappeared.”

She wrote in 1962, If I ever become a Saint–I will surely be one of ‘darkness.’ I will continually be absent from Heaven–to be the light of those in darkness on earth. I will end with the words of an unfashionable writer but one I have used before in these podcasts, and may have recourse to in future: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in stanzas two and three of his poem Loss and Gain wrote with clarity and wisdom, I am aware/How many days have been idly spent;/How like an arrow the good intent/Has fallen short or been turned aside.//But who shall dare/To measure loss and gain in this wise?/Defeat may be victory in disguise;/The lowest ebb is the turn of the tide. [insert song]

The next letter compares the simplicity of the atheistic view to the tangled webs believers often construct- although the concept of limbo finds a tangible place on the first day of the weekend. We meet Marvin the Paranoid Android, and you are invited to listen to a Phillip Larkin poem at three o’clock in the morning on YouTube. The narrator’s use of pop artist Mel Ramos’ wonderful work Valveeta as the inspiration for his limbo song- is described. And I refer here, not to the party dance involving a pole, but the metaphysical, or in this case, metaphorical, place.

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.