Letters From Quotidia Episode 37 Harlequin’s Poles

Letters From Quotidia Episode 37 Harlequin’s Poles

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. Cue spooky space music as a hologrammatic narrator shows you dystopias from the past, present and future in this 37th Letter with the weird title, Harlequin’s Poles.

Several bodies ago, I read Repent, Harlequin! Said the Ticktock Man by Harlan Ellison. Now, isn’t that an appropriately sci-fi opening sentence? The belief that the human body turns over on a cellular (or is it atomic?) level every 7 to 10 years has whiskers on it, of course. George Bernard Shaw, in the preface to one of his novel’s wrote in 1905, Physiologists inform us that the substance of our bodies (and consequently of our souls) is shed and renewed at such a rate that no part of us lasts longer than eight years: I am therefore not now in any atom of me the person who wrote The Irrational Knot in 1880. The last of that author perished in 1888; and two of his successors have since joined the majority. Fourth of his line, I cannot be expected to take any very lively interest in the novels of my literary great-grandfather.

Interesting thought: can we shed responsibility for our actions as easily as we shed skin cells, I wonder? Richard Feynman, one of the truly great minds of 20th Century science, relates, once in Hawaii, I was taken to see a Buddhist temple. In the temple, a man said, “I am going to tell you something that you will never forget.” And then he said “To every man is given the key to Heaven. The same key opens the gates of Hell.” He went on to write, in an essay entitled The Value of Science, the thing I call my individuality is only a pattern or dance, that is what it means when one discovers how long it takes for the atoms of the brain to be replaced by other atoms. The atoms come into my brain, dance a dance, and then go out – there are always new atoms, but always doing the same dance, remembering what the dance was yesterday.

One of the dances he was remembering was the fact that he, as a member of the Manhattan project, was one of the architects of the Atomic bombs that obliterated the centres of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.  But let’s go back to Harlequin and the Ticktock Man. We have all the time in the world; unlike the dystopia of the short story where human beings are rigorously regimented and where falling behind schedule is punishable by having that time taken away from your allotment of that precious commodity. When your time runs out, the Ticktock Man switches off your heart- although whether your heart was ever really a going concern is a question posed by this piece of speculative fiction.

The image of the harlequin reminds me of the reality of my employment for more than 40 years. My life was punctuated by bells as I rushed from class to class or class to staffroom or staffroom to class, always behind, arms full of exercise books not yet marked, the Ticktock Man pursing his lips as, once again, I stumbled into the classroom to be faced with faces waiting with me, the clown at the front of the room, for the summons of the next bell.

Like a lot of people, clowns have not been a joyful memory from childhood but a vision that has usually had ambiguous overtones. Charlie Chaplin’s “The Tramp” is one of the most memorable clown variants and in The Great Dictator the great comic showed greater insight than most of his contemporaries in satirising the contemptible Nazis and their odd-looking leader. The representation of the clown as trickster plays to our dislike of those in power and we cheer when pomposity is punctured yet remain wary of the jeering japester who capers on the edge of our comfort zone sneering sardonically at our incapacity for truly independent action; the sad ordinariness of us.

But there is respite from the mundane humdrum of the daily round that consumes us from the tick of eyelid snapping open to the tock of it drawing down the blinds on another rotation. And that respite takes many forms. For some, it is the opening of a novel at the exact spot where the promise of swift submersion beckons like a lover’s arms; for others, closing the door on the world to resume a passion (or hobby) suffices. For only a few does it comprise what occupies most of our waking hours.

Which explains the persistence of poetry, perhaps, for the rest of us.  As Carl Sandburg says, Poetry is a sliver of the moon lost in the belly of a golden frog. Or, as he more mischievously defines it, Poetry is the achievement of the synthesis of hyacinths and biscuits. An interesting, final definition, Poetry is a dance music measuring buck-and-wing follies along with the gravest and stateliest dead-marches. Collins dictionary defines buck-and-wing as a boisterous tap dance, derived from Black and Irish clog dances. Dance, like music, is inextricably bound up in time yet together they conspire to overcome its tyrannical hold on our existence. So let’s dance on, oblivious to the Watcher at the window, waiting for the music to stop; waiting for the process to resume its relentless tick-tock goose-step, to take us over the edge of everything that ever was. Listen now, to Harlequin’s Poles [insert song]

Come fly with me to the land of Quotidia where we encounter a wonderful poem by James McAuley, re-create a childish vision of the perfect family, rummage through a wartime newspaper stack searching for authenticity, shiver on a patio in Aruba in the early 1960s as a crowd of American expat oil employees anticipate a nuclear strike with cocktails in their gesticulating hands as, less than twenty years earlier a shining aluminium aircraft approaches a Japanese treaty port leaving, afterwards, in its wake, a blood-shadow burned into concrete steps.

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 9

Letters From Quotidia Postcards edition 9

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, the Postcards edition, number 9, 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. Our first selection for this, our 9th postcard, is a song I wrote a quarter of a century ago which I called Central Story, after the big train station we disembarked on our way to celebrate Paddy’s Day at Albert Park, just a short walk away. I tacked on a wonderfully titled tune, The Hag at the Churn. As I say, St Patrick’s Day used to be celebrated at a park near Central Station here in Sydney and I enjoyed it much more that the subsequent ordered and orderly version that saw it contained within a secured site. What will happen after COVID is anybody’s guess. I would speculate there will be more than one or two aspects of the ordering of our society that will change as a result. But this song and tune celebrates a time twenty-five years ago when we were rather younger and wilder. The instrumental at the end I initially thought was entitled The Goose in the Bog– I wonder what rhymed line I would have come up with if I had known the accurate title when writing the song! Answers on a postcard only please to the address at the end of this podcast![insert song]

The second selection, Sonny, is sung by Jim. This is another disputed song- I have come across several versions of the song and how it came to be written. (FYI Ron Hynes, Newfoundland folksinger, is, of course, the originator.) The good thing, though, about being in a knockabout Irish folk band is that you can leave the wrangling to others. If you don’t care about commercial gain and prefer to gather at whim and sing and play just what you want, then the rest is just noise. All you have to do is try to create a version of the song that appeals- if only to yourselves. We hope, of course, that the appeal is rather larger than just the four of us! But we’re OK if it ain’t all that much larger.[insert song]

 Deportees– I first played this song as a student in Belfast in 1969 at at an impromptu folk session on the beach at Bangor, County Down. From memory, I first heard the song from the singing of Judy Collins in the mid-60s. (Of course, the great Woody Guthrie wrote it originally). Perspective is a funny thing: the song commemorates a plane crash in 1948-a year before I was born. And still the drama plays out as I type this. Deportees in the 21st Century will be able to look down on the “wonderful Wall” promised by President Trump as they fly southwards to Mexico. Guthrie was inspired to write the lyrics by what he considered the racist mistreatment of the passengers before and after the accident. The crash resulted in the deaths of 32 people, 4 Americans and 28 migrant farm workers who were being deported from California back to Mexico…A decade later, Guthrie’s poem was set to music and given a haunting melody by a schoolteacher named Martin Hoffman. Shortly after, folk singer Pete Seeger, a friend of Woody Guthrie, began performing the song at concerts, and it was Seeger’s rendition that popularised the song. Sam sings this great song now, although there is a redux version by me later in the series. [insert song]

The Jolly Beggarman is believed to be King James V of Scotland, father of Mary, Queen of Scots. He was in the habit of wandering the countryside dressed as a beggar. There are lots of stories about various royals and members of the nobility roaming the roads, streets and lanes of their domain for a bit of excitement. King James V actually wrote a poem in the 16th Century called The Jolly Beggar on which the verse of the song here is based. The chorus, though, is inspired by the 19th Century Romantic poet, Lord Byron who was mad, bad and dangerous to know! He was one of my favourite poets when I was a teenager- and I still rate him highly today. Here, now, is his exquisite and regretful lyric, We’ll Go No More a-Roving. SO, we’ll go no more a-roving/So late into the night,/Though the heart be still as loving, And the moon be still as bright/.For the sword outwears its sheath,/And the soul wears out the breast,/And the heart must pause to breathe,/And love itself have rest./Though the night was made for loving,/And the day returns too soon,/Yet we’ll go no more a-roving/By the light of the moon. So good, isn’t it?Jim, along with Sam the Man, are the main singers in Banter. I am content to be the Bronze Medallist, insofar as singing is concerned, within our group. But, here in lockdown, there is no competition! So, I have taken one of the songs that Jim habitually sings and unashamedly present it here. There is an interesting contrast between the lusty verses inspired by King James V and the regretful chorus inspired by Lord Byron. I have sought to underpin this by having the vigorous instrumentation of the verse being undercut by the romantic strings in the chorus- see what you think.[insert song]

The 10th postcard does not stray much outside the confines of the United Kingdom as we start with a song, which originated in the north of England but is very popular in Ireland,  about a chimney sweep with a sideline in robbery. We then head off to Wales as sacked coal miners bid farewell to the girls the love. Next, we visit Belfast and hear about a murder/suicide attempt- one succeeds and one fails- listen in to find out which. Our final visit is to Fiddlers Green, the term which has a storied history. A fine song with this name was written in 1966, although most people think it is traditional- a real compliment. So, book with Quotidia Travel for a tour of the British Isles- you know you’ll be in great hands!

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 36 Staring (in The Antrim Lounge)

Letters From Quotidia Episode 36 Staring (in The Antrim Lounge)

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.

Whether you love it or loathe it, Sport is one of the enduring activities of humankind. 17,000 years ago, during the Upper Palaeolithic era, we find in the cave paintings at Lascaux, scenes depicting sprinting. Neolithic rock art from Libya shows archery being practised over 6,000 years ago. Have a look at a mural from the Egyptian tomb of two royal servants, Khnumhotep and Niankhkhnum who lived 2,400 years ago. The mural shows a wrestling bout between two men that are like stills from an animation.

Team sports also have roots in antiquity. Sports that are at least two and a half thousand years old include hurling in Ireland, shinty in Scotland, harpastum (similar to rugby in Rome, cuju (similar to association football) in China, and polo in Persia, according to Wikipedia. The earliest reference to hurling in Australia is related in the book “Sketches of Garryowen.” On 12 July 1844, a match took place at Batman’s Hill in Melbourne as a counterpoint to a march by the Orange Order. Reportedly, the hurling match attracted a crowd of five hundred Irish immigrants, while the Orange march shivered out of existence.

In the opening scenes of the 2011 film Blitz, Jason Statham uses a hurley to beat up three youths who are trying to steal a car. Statham’s character is heard to say, “This, lads, is a hurley, used in the Irish game of hurling, a cross between hockey and murder”. Which brings us to Orwell’s opinion on the matter, serious sport has nothing to do with fair play, it is bound up with hatred and jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all the rules and sadistic pleasure in unnecessary violence. In other words, it is war minus the shooting. In a spirited refutation of this view,

Brendan Gallagher, writing in Britain’s The Telegraph in July 2004 asserts, Sportsmen make great soldiers because they are generally fit, courageous, aggressive, skilled, self-sacrificing and disciplined. What Orwell overlooked is that most sportsmen bring a generosity of spirit, dignity and integrity to everything they do, including going to war. With few exceptions, they behave better on the sporting field than the rest of mankind do in their everyday lives and over the years they have taken those qualities into the battlefield. They raise the bar, especially when the going gets tough.

Writing in the New York Times in 2006, American author David Foster Wallace’s article Federer as Religious Experience, captures perfectly the reverence inspired by supreme sports-people, a top athlete’s beauty is next to impossible to describe directly. Or to evoke…His anticipation and court sense are otherworldly, yet none of it really explains anything or evokes the experience of watching this man play.

Nadia Comăneci, first female gymnast to be awarded a perfect 10 at the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games inspired similar feelings in me as I watched those gravity-defying moves of her magical routines on the beam, uneven bars and floor.  Only two years earlier I had been at North beach Wollongong with my family. At that time, I was in reasonable physical shape and was sunning myself (and, yes, preening myself) on the sand. Then a procession of ancient Greek Gods, men and women of tremendous physique and beauty hove into view dwarfing mere mortals like me. This wasn’t the product of sunstroke but a contingent of Australian Olympians passing by. Some among this elite group occupying the pinnacle of sporting prowess become even larger in the public’s consciousness and attain the status of myth, of icon.

George Best, for many, occupied this special place. His handsome presence and devil-may-care attitude allied to a preternatural ability on the football pitch made him a star of the 1960s. Problems with alcohol and the excesses of an extravagant lifestyle were to dog him for the last decades of his life, about which he quipped memorably: “I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars – the rest I just squandered”.  

Penrith Gaels used to have a small room called the Antrim Lounge where photographs and posters on a variety of sports were on view. One of these was a signed photograph of George Best with Dennis Law, his friend and team mate, taken during the mid- 60s at Old Trafford. Of a Friday arvo, after work, I would repair to this sanctuary to enjoy a pint or two with my son who had been in Belfast in 2005 when George died in London’s Cromwell hospital from complications associated with his liver transplant.

One afternoon in 2006, the conversation got around to song-writing and I said that I could write a song about where we were. I pointed to the photograph on the wall and said that it would feature in the verses. Furthermore, I boasted, you’ll feature too: Bullshit, he replied: [insert song]

Science Fiction writer Harlan Ellison, playwright George Bernard Shaw, and physicist extrordinaire Richard Feynman who was told in a Buddhist temple something that he would never forget. (I don’t think you’ll forget it either. They all make an appearance in Quotidia for our next letter. We also  look at the little tramp, that  comic genius Charlie Chaplin and take in some of the sardonic verse of American poet, Carl Sandburg. If variety is your thing- join me in Quotidia for the next podcast.

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 35 Sing Along

Letters From Quotidia Episode 35 Sing Along

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia – a podcast by Quentin Bega for lovers of music, poetry, and the Crack- that most Irish of nouns which may encompass, news, gossip, fun, entertainment, and enjoyable conversation. Quotidia is that space, that place, where ordinary people lead ordinary lives. But where, from time to time, they encounter the extraordinary. Our 35th letter encompasses the African savannah, the Scottish Highlands, a Welsh stadium, a small music hall in Vienna and a church hall in Sydney. We’ve a lot of ground to cover so we’d better get our skates on!

Maybe it all started a hundred thousand years ago on an escarpment fringing the African savannah. A number of families of early humans have sought sanctuary in caves and hollows from marauding bands of hyena who howl their hunger under a blood-moon as infants cower in their mother’s arms and their fathers with fire-hardened wooden spears muster at the entrances to stave off the predators surrounding them. As the slavering shadows draw near, a lone voice responds defiantly and then another, and another, until along the line of cave mouths a human chorus sings out a challenge to Death as, emboldened, the hunted become the hunters and the hyenas are scattered by an outrush of warriors.

Later, around triumphant campfires, the voices re-enact the battle-scene in shaped notes that predate harmony and history. Ever since those misty proto-mythological times, song, in all its proliferations, has taken root in human culture and almost every human heart. To evince a dislike for music is akin to an admission of having no sense of humour. The Lothario with his lute, serenading his lover under her balcony is an enduring stereotype and, indeed, an admitted motivation for a legion of actual and wannabe rock stars. The well-springs of song are not only amatory but also rise from love of many kinds- of God, of tribe and country, of children and even, for heaven’s sake, of material goods.

The forces range from the lone, unaccompanied voice of Wordsworth’s solitary reaper who may be singing for old, unhappy, far-off things/and battles long ago,/Or is it some more humble lay,/Familiar matter of today?/Some natural sorrow, loss or pain,/That has been and may be again? to stadia rocked by massed voices epitomised by the Cor World Choir which comprises 20,000 choristers assembled with orchestral support at Millennium Stadium, Cardiff in May 2017. Song types range from the primitive cooing of any mother in any time to highly sophisticated art-song composed by one of the great composers, say, Mahler, who selected five poems from 428 written in an outpouring of grief by a devastated Friedrich Rückert following the illness and death from scarlet fever of two of his children. These poems form the text of the sublime Kindertotenlieder-songs on the death of children.

The work, featuring a solo singer, premiered in Vienna on 29 January 1905. The hall selected was a relatively small one, compatible with the intimacy of the lied genre; the composer himself conducting a small group drawn from the Vienna Philharmonic. In an awful twist of fate, Mahler lost his daughter, Maria, to scarlet fever, four years after the composition of the work. His wife, Alma, found it incomprehensible and feared Mahler was tempting Providence, when he had resumed work on Kindertotenlieder just two weeks after Maria’s birth. In some archaic chamber of her heart she must have blamed Mahler for tweaking the tail of the dragon, Destiny, which had lashed out at the hubris of her husband.

But let us leave that hall in fin de siecle Vienna and journey through space and time to a small church hall in the suburb of Annandale, Sydney. It is 2012 and there are rows of chairs arranged in a hollow square. Men and women of all ages, dressed variously, file in and take their places according to whether they are basses, trebles, altos or tenors. To be here they do not need formal musical training or qualification. But in a matter of moments they will produce music of remarkable power.

They are Sacred Harp singers. Originating in 18th Century America they have spread to every corner of the planet. They are resolutely independent, democratic, inclusive and sure of the value in what they are doing as a communal activity. The leader of this particular round calls the next song by its page number and sings establishing notes. The singers respond and immediately the song begins. The leader faces the tenors, beating the time with an open palm as many in the hall mirror his gestures. The uninitiated listener, perhaps a guest of the leader and standing in the middle of the square, is stunned by the exotic experience of the sounds coming at him from every direction.

But this swirling, primal harmony has a core of recognisability and by the second or third verse he realises that this is Amazing Grace, but sung in a version never before encountered. The melody is buried in the tenor line and, indeed, Sacred Harp arrangers concentrate on giving each section their time to shine. My encounters with music and singing of all styles has kept me alive spiritually along with encounters with poetry, painting, drama and all manner of ostensibly useless art-forms. Walt Whitman cried out, I sing the body electric contemporaneous with the flowering of Sacred Harp music. Please, let’s sing along: [insert song]

Sport is the theme of our next visit to Quotidia where we”ll look at cave paintings depicting sprinting and archery, a wrestling bout from an Egyptian tomb, and we’ll discover that team sports that are still played today have their origins in places as diverse as Rome, China, Persia and Ireland. People love or loathe sport and we’ll check out some of the arguments for and against.

We’ll admire the skill and artistry of Roger Federer and Nadia Comaneci and well finish with a look at Irish legend, George Best, an icon of the beautiful game. So don’t be late- the stadium is bound to be packed as the spectators wait in anticipation for the sporting contest to commence.

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 34 This Cold Bed

Quentin Bega
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Letters From Quotidia Episode 34 This Cold Bed

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 corrido is a Spanish folk style popularised in Mexico and most listeners will recognise its most pervasive example, La Cucaracha. But will they, really? Often presented as a speeded up soundtrack in 5/4 time for a cartoon featuring a variety of Mexican stereotypes, frequently mice with elongated ears, or stylised cockroaches in vivid Mexican colours playing a variety of ethnic percussion instruments as they emulate dancing beans, you only get its true power by listening to authentic folk bands who value the historical and revolutionary origins of the song.

YouTube comes into its own here, where even a cursory search brings up a handful of moving renditions. The black-and-white stills and film images from the Mexican revolution of 1910-1920 accompany a number of versions of that song as well as corridos written about heroes of the revolution including such towering figures as Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa. One of the remarkable features of this revolution was the number of striking women who took up arms and who are commemorated in song after song and photograph after photograph. The contribution of the revolutionaries of both sexes is constantly refreshed by ongoing interpretations by contemporary singers and musicians.

As I write this, horsemen sweep across a dusty plain through exploding shells; now a firing squad cuts down its hapless targets; a steam train pulls out of the station draped with cheering, moustachioed men; beautiful women wearing bandoliers brandish rifles and family groups in serious poses recall similar middle-class family portraits from the Edwardian era in Europe except that each person in the Mexican portrait, man or woman, boy or girl, is holding a rifle or pistol.

In a sinister modern twist to this story, the brutal drug lords who have reduced parts of Mexico to blood-drenched landscapes and cityscapes of terror and horror are celebrated in narco- corridos with slick production values that would not be out of place in the recordings of rock royalty. In the lyrics, however, the real picture emerges, With an AK47 and a bazooka on my shoulder, cross my path and I’ll chop your head off. We’re bloodthirsty, crazy and we like to kill. This is not hyperbole or graphic story-telling but an account what has happened to many thousands of victims, men, women and children who have had the temerity to cross the path of one of the narco-gangs.

Juarez, Mexico has a population of three times that of El Paso, its West Texas neighbour. Five homicides were recorded in El Paso in 2010. Therefore, were the homicide rates similar, you would expect 15 deaths in the Mexican city. 3,622 murders were, in fact, recorded for that year.  For an Australian perspective, imagine if, in the last year, ten thousand violent murders were committed across the Sydney basin.

In the spring break of 1981, I played host to Kevin Baker, an Australian friend and writer, who had just flown into Northern Ireland from West Berlin. We were to spend a week on a hired boat on Lough Erne where I was accompanying a small group of student fishing enthusiasts and the Art teacher from the school where we both taught. My Australian guest had commented on the graffiti on the roads from the airport and I explained to him that Northern Ireland was a patchwork of sectarian allegiances and that you had to be a little bit careful as you negotiated the geographical and political landscape. The Lough Erne system comprises two connected lakes straddled by the historic town of Enniskillen. The area is one of breath-taking beauty and we spent an idyllic time cruising the upper and lower loughs and exploring the historical sites on several of the many islands which are sprinkled across the system.

At this time, the hunger-strikes were underway, orchestrated by the youngest MP in the British parliament, one Bobby Sands. He was gravely ill in the Maze prison hospital and one of the students, listening to a news update whispered, Die, Bobby Sands, Die. Kevin, my Australian guest, shocked at the venom evident in the hissed response to the news item, asked me why there was such hatred when we shared a bottle of wine later that evening. Ireland, I replied.

Sands was a charismatic man. He was also a musician and writer. His best-known song, Back Home in Derry, to an old Irish tune, commemorates the Irish convicts transported to Van Diemen’s Land in 1803- the present-day paradise of Tasmania. My comrades’ ghosts walk behind me/A rebel I came – And I’ll die the same/On the cold winters’ night you will find me. When I came to write the song This Cold Bed in Sydney in the mid-90s, I was thinking of Bobby Sands and of all those artists aligned to revolutionary causes who felt that the protest inherent in painting or writing or music wasn’t enough of a response to the times they found themselves in. [insert song]

Our next letter addresses our love of music and singing. We’ll speculate how this all began, cite instances of massed voices, drop in on the tormented composer Gustav Mahler as he tempts fate with his song sequence Kindertotenlieder and wonder about those rare individuals who dislike music of any kind. So come along, bring an instrument if you wish and warm up your voice to join the choir in 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 33 I’m Supposed To Be

Letters From Quotidia Episode 33 I’m Supposed To Be

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

In this, the 33rd Letter, we’ll take in a 17th Century Scottish ballad, a couple of Who songs from the 1960s, and the poems, Miniver Cheevy and Richard Cory from the American writer Edward Arlington Robinson. The Bonny Earl o’ Moray is a 17th Century Scottish ballad. Its fourth line has given rise to a phenomenon of the 20th and 21st Centuries called the Mondegreen.

Coined in 1954 by American writer Sylvia Wright in a Harper’s Bazaar article she explains its origin: When I was a child, my mother used to read aloud to me from Percy’s Reliques, and one of my favourite poems began, as I remember:/Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands,/Oh, where hae ye been?/They hae slain the Earl o’ Moray,/And Lady Mondegreen. The actual fourth line is “And laid him on the green”. Wright explained the need for a new term: “The point about what I shall hereafter call mondegreens, since no one else has thought up a word for them, is that they are better than the original. “Her essay had already described the bonny Earl holding the beautiful Lady Mondegreen’s hand, both bleeding profusely but faithful unto death. She disputed: “I know, but I won’t give in to it. Leaving him to die all alone without even anyone to hold his hand–I WON’T HAVE IT!!!”

We substitute what we think are the actual words, through a mishearing of the original word or phrase. In March, 1966, I bought Substitute, a single by the group, The Who, and would sing it lustily on the bus on the morning run to school. The line, My sharkskin suit is really made out of sack, which I’m sure I heard on the original, elicited the question from my school mates, What’s a sharkskin suit? To which I responded with the universal don’t know, don’t care shrug and grunt of the teenage boy. It isn’t even a close homophone of the lyrics, which I later found to be, My fine linen suit is really made out of sack.

For whatever reason, I substituted sharkskin for fine linen. And I still think it a better reading of the line. Townsend’s lyrics went beyond the usual cliches of popdom, I’m a substitute for another guy/I look pretty tall but my heels are high/The simple things you see are all complicated/I look pretty young, but I’m just backdated, yeah.

Later that year, Townsend continued his exploration of illusion and reality and how roles define us in the song I’m a Boy. The mother won’t accept that her son is a boy and instructs his sisters, Put your frock on, Jean Marie/Plait your hair, Felicity/Paint your nails, little Sally Joy/Put this wig on, little boy. Not suffering from gender dysphoria, little boy laments, I wanna play cricket on the green/Ride my bike across the street/Cut myself and see my blood/I wanna come home all covered in mud. Sadly, his mother remains adamantine to the pleas of the chorus, I’m a boy, I’m a boy/But my ma won’t admit it/I’m a boy, I’m a boy/But if I say I am, I get it.

Discontent is woven into the human condition, is it not? Edwin Arlington Robinson, whose parents had wanted a girl and held off naming him for six months, wrote about a man uncomfortable in his milieu in one of his best known poems, published in 1910, Miniver Cheevy, Miniver cursed the commonplace/And eyed a khaki suit with loathing;/He missed the mediæval grace/Of iron clothing./Miniver Cheevy, born too late,/Scratched his head and kept on thinking;/Miniver coughed, and called it fate,/And kept on drinking. But wealth alone cannot shield one from existential discontentment as Robinson demonstrates in Richard Cory, if anything even more well-known than Miniver Cheevy. Richard Cory is wealthy and well-mannered, debonair, educated and the object of admiration and envy among the townspeople who struggle to make ends meet. So on we worked, and waited for the light,/And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;/And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,/Went home and put a bullet through his head.

The seemingly crushing difficulties of the lives of the people are trumped by the meaningless daily round of Richard Cory. Which leads me to the song I’m Supposed To Be. Five years in the heat of North Queensland and I was slowly going troppo. Outward trappings of success, a commission to write a musical play put on in the local commercial theatre, confident and assured as the head of English at a pleasant school, and I was sinking. Friends and acquaintances, family, excursions to the Whitsunday Islands, fishing trips and holidays on Magnetic Island- none of these rescued me from the world of Substitute where the north side of my town faced east and the east was facing south.

Unlike the young protagonist of the song, I was approaching my mid-forties, within the zone for an occurrence of the mid-life crisis, although empirical research has found no evidence for it and questions its validity as a human condition. Wouldn’t that be a bummer for so many writers in so many genres who mine this particular seam for considerable profit- if, that is, they were to allow something so inconvenient as the truth to intrude: so, now to the angst-filled song I wrote when I realised that I was no longer young but irretrievably middle-aged having achieved the age of 44  on Halloween in 1993. The name of this ode to alienation? I’m Supposed To Be. [insert song]  

Our next letter takes us to the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1920 as well as checking in on the contemporary drug wars along the border. We spend an idyllic time onboard a  hired fishing cruiser on Lough Erne in Northern Ireland and overhear a student wishing fervently for the death of MP, songwriter and IRA volunteer, Bobby Sands (a wish that came true). Join me in Quotidia as we negotiate some of the fracture lines of the 20th Century.

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 8

Quentin Bega
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Letters From Quotidia Postcards edition 8

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, the Postcards edition, number 8, 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.

Our first selection is another song and tune combo. The Raggle Taggle Gypsy/ The Battle of Aughrim– I first sang this song in the folk group Seannachie over forty years ago and I’ve sung it off and on in various venues.  When Banter formed in the mid- 1990s, we thought the stirring march, The Battle of Aughrim, would complement it nicely. I do wonder, though, how many fine ladies in history have ever left the money, fine clothes  and privileges of wealth and rank in order to follow a gypsy into the privations of a traveller’s life…. [insert song]

Our second selection for this postcard is Ride On. Written by Jimmy McCarthy, noted Irish songwriter, this song has been a favourite of the band since we first heard Christy Moore sing it. Although it is short, it is memorable and is often requested when we make one of our  appearances in public out here on the fringes of Western Sydney To be continued after COVID, God Willing!. Sammy sings this song and Mark stars on fiddle,  ably assisted by his father Jim on Mandolin while I pluck away on guitar. [insert Song]

Working Man– Another song from another era. First heard this sung in the 1990s by a singer from the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, NSW, who looked and sounded like the writer and populariser of the song, Rita McNeil. It’s power is undeniable and, do you know something?: I can’t see any significant singer-songwriter penning a ballad about the trials and travails of ping-pong playing employees of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs as they struggle with code that will displace yet more workers and line the pockets of another generation of industrialists. But who knows? As someone once observed, prediction is very difficult, especially with regard to the future. Jim sings this song now. [insert song]

Patrick Logan became Commandant of the Moreton Bay penal settlement in 1826. He was hated by the convicts for his harsh methods. He did some exploring and was surveying the Upper Brisbane river when he was killed by Aborigines in 1830. Logan was a relentless flogger as shown in a sample record of his floggings that were noted in the diary of one of the prison clerks. This records that from February to October in 1828 Logan ordered 200 floggings with over 11,000 lashes.

When Logan’s body was brought back to Moreton Bay, the convicts “manifested insane joy at the news of his murder, and sang and hoorayed all night, in defiance of the warders.” Bushranger Ned Kelly used lines from the ballad in his “Jerilderie Letter” in 1879 (“Port McQuarrie Toweringabbie Norfolk island and Emu plains and in those places of tyranny and condemnation many a blooming Irish man rather than subdue to the Saxon yoke were flogged to death and bravely died in servile chains.”)

In 1911, Bushranger Jack Bradshaw printed a version in his True History of the Australian Bushrangers . Bradshaw printed the song again in Twenty Years of Prison Life in the Gaols of NSW attributing it to “poor old Frank McNamara”. Francis MacNamara (Frank the Poet) recited it as he stepped off his convict ship in 1832 at Sydney Cove. MacNamara was subjected to all the brutality of the convict system in Australia, and was to spend years in various penal settlements. He served time in Port Arthur in Van Diemen’s Land concurrently with John Kelly, Ned Kelly’s father.

No doubt it was there that Kelly learnt MacNamara’s ‘The Convict’s Arrival’ or ‘The Convict’s Lament on the Death of Captain Logan’ which we now know as ‘Moreton Bay’. Francis MacNamara wrote many fine poems including ‘The Convict’s Tour of Hell’, ‘The Cyprus Brig’ and one of the many versions of ‘The Wild Colonial Boy’. He used to begin his recitals with the following verse: My name is Frank McNamara\ A native of Cashell Co Tipperary\ Sworn to be a tyrant’s foe\ And while I’ve life I’ll crow! My thanks to folkstream- Australian Folk Songs for the info above.

Moreton Bay borrows the tune of an old Irish air, Eochaill. As Frank the Poet wrote about his convict experience in or shortly after 1830, it precedes by seventy years or so, P. J. McCall’s borrowing of it for his well-known song Boolavogue, which commemorates the campaign of Father John Murphy and his army in County Wexford during the Irish Rebellion of 1798. It was composed in 1898, the centenary of the Rebellion. The singer in our group, Sam the Man, will probably be irate that I am singing his song, here. However, he’s in lockdown miles away and I’m at a loose end, so… [insert song]

The 9th postcard will feature a goose in a bog mistaken for a hag at the churn, a farmer’s son who never left home, a group of deportees who don’t make it back to Mexico and a jolly beggarman who may or may not be the king of Scotland. So strap yourself in for another flight to Quotidia where we will explore another four songs that form part of the great tradition.

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 32 Dreams of the Elemental

Letters From Quotidia Episode 32 Dreams of the Elemental

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

In this letter number 32, which I have labelled, Dreams of the Elemental, we will encounter the spiders of the internet, a philosopher who announces the death of God, a schizophrenic poet and a sublime novelist- let’s meet them: Cyberspace has hundreds of millions of wunderkind spiders dancing across the span of its virtual web weaving texts for every (and no) conceivable occasion. Snared in incalculable arrays of snugly wrapped binary cocoons are the multitudinous textual trash and treasure from the present and past, waiting to be plucked to a screen near you by the stroke of a key. 

Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. Who said that? And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you. Pardon? One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star. Ah, of course, Nietzsche. Revered or reviled, depending on the commentator, this astonishing intellect produced some of the most influential ideas of the past century. Yeats and Auden, Wallace Stevens and Thomas Mann each produced sublime works inspired, in part, by the stateless occupant of the chair of classical philology at the University of Basel.

His detractors discredited him by linking his ideas to the world-view of the Nazis (what with their ideas of the Aryan super race and so on). They also had him riddled with syphilis and labelled a raving lunatic for the last decade of his life.  The protagonist of Thomas Mann’s Dr Faustus, Adrian Leverkuhn, is a composer of genius whose 24 years of compositional ecstasy corresponds to the supposed length of time it takes for the incubation of the spirochete and progress of the disease to its end in terminal tertiary syphilis. Mann based his main character on Nietzsche who, in a fragment entitled On Words and Music, asserted the judgment that music is a primary expression of the essence of everything. Some of his letters, written at the start of his tragic decade of madness, he signed Dionysos recalling his influential writings on tragedy where he posits the Apollonian and the Dionysian as the opposing poles of order and chaos from which tragedy emerges.

In some ways, he is following in the steps of one of his favourite poets, Holderlin, who spent the final 36 years of his life sequestered in a tower suffering the torments of schizophrenia. In periods of lucidity, Holderlin produced verse of lyrical beauty, A kindly divinity leads us on at first/with blue, then prepares clouds,/shaped like grey domes, with/searing lightning and rolling thunder,/ then comes the loveliness of the fields,/and beauty wells forth from/the source of the primal image. Or, The earth hangs down/to the lake, full of yellow/ pears and wild roses./ Lovely swans, drunk with/ kisses, you dip your heads/ into the holy, sobering waters.

Something I may well have emulated when I crossed the line. Shortly after New Year, 1979, I treated the family to a cruise. We were returning to Ireland and we set out from the port of Fremantle bound for Singapore. The ship, named the Kota Singapura, did not only carry a human cargo, but also livestock. The hijinks on-board were Bacchanalian as the target demographic were young backpackers who were entertained each evening by a guy who was later attacked with a sword by a disgruntled crew member.

An elderly lady, an occupant of the cabin next to ours, was thrown from her bunk during a storm overnight, and broke her arm. The next afternoon, beginning to worry about a run of bad luck, I glanced anxiously up at Krakatoa, willing it to remain dormant, as we passed to the east of it.  At this stage of my life, I was fascinated by Eastern philosophy, particularly, Taoism, and I has a well-thumbed paperback translation of the Tao Te Ching to hand.

I read: The name that can be named is not the eternal name…the famous first line… just as we take advantage of what is, we should recognise the usefulness of what is not.  However, my mind wasn’t on philosophy but the upcoming party. King Neptune, in the person of the soon-to-be-hacked entertainments officer, presided over ceremonies designed to inflict mild humiliation on those who admitted to having never crossed the equator by sea before. I sang O’Sullivan’s John raucously, accompanying myself on borrowed guitar, before being thrown into the pool and swallowing a mouthful or two of holy sobering waters.

Then the ship began to list to port, but the hijinks continued unabated, and, as the ship limped into the dock at Singapore to a waiting contingent of police with dogs and vans, we disembarked to the rumour swirling among us that Mick Jagger would be on Bugis Street that evening. Speculation as to whether he would be in drag or just another tourist added spice to the rumour. As I say, I treated the family to a cruise at the beginning of 1979. So effective has the treatment been, that, in the thirty-odd years since, I have received no requests for a repetition of the dose.

That is until early January 2020 when we had a magical cruise around New Zealand with no sword play, old ladies thrown from bunks or raving backpackers. Just one fly in the ointment: this was just before COVID struck. We disembarked without incident, but the ship went on to be stranded in Hawaii for months. [ insert song]

Our 33rd voyage on the good ship Quotidia will teach us what a Mondegreen is as we have a look at 1960s Who lyrics and the poetry of Edwin Arlington Robinson. As your entertainments officer, I can guarantee you a good trip. Why is my arm in a sling? Ah, a mere scratch from an oriental blade.

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 31 The Cycle of Love

Letters From Quotidia Episode 31 The Cycle of Love

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.

Gulgong is a memorable spot. Situated in the Central Tablelands of New South Wales about 300 kilometres north-west of Sydney, it afforded the indigenous Wiradjuri people plentiful game and sweet water before white settlement. In the 1820s, conflict between white settlers and the aboriginal inhabitants intensified, with martial law being decreed in 1824. Shooting parties, freed to roam at will, killing the tribespeople on sight, ensured that, within a generation, very few survivors remained.

One William Cox, who, according to some sources made a significant contribution to their extermination, claimed the last local black died in 1876.  By this time, a gold rush had been in full swing for six years, with the population of the area swelling to over 20,000. But by 1881, it was all over, with the population subsiding to a little over twelve hundred souls. In its hey-day, though, Gulgong swanked it with the best of her larger metropolitan sisters what, with dancing girls having nuggets of gold thrown in their laps and crowds of rowdy fortune seekers surging through the narrow streets.

Henry Lawson sets the tone in The Roaring Days, So let us fill our glasses/ And toast the Days of Gold;/ When finds of wondrous treasure/ Set all the South ablaze. Between 1870 and 1880, the fabled Cobb and Co coaches took away 483,170 ounces of gold from Gulgong and nearby fieldsAnd the poet captures the excitement of the time with Behind six foaming horses,/And lit by flashing lamps,/Old Cobb and Co., in royal state,/Went dashing past the camps. Henry would have been somewhat bemused to find himself on the first ten-dollar note, given his lack of luck with money during his lifetime. Almost always desperately poor, he spent time in Darlinghurst Gaol for drunkenness and non-payment of child support.

The tone of One Hundred and Three, his prison number, and the title of a sombre poem, published in 1908, is far removed from The Roaring Days, The brute is a brute and a kind man kind and the strong heart does not fail-/A crawler’s a crawler everywhere but a man is a man in gaol! But I like to think that he would have laughed out loud to find that Francis Greenaway, a convict transported for the crime of forgery, is depicted on the obverse of the note.

In 1989 a white VG Valiant drove slowly up to the Ten Dollar Motel as the sun was rising on New Year’s Eve. The back of the 4000 km return journey between North Queensland and Sydney was broken and that’s how my spine felt as we settled into our rooms. My wife and daughter were excited by the buzz in the streets, surging again with people, as revellers got set for a night’s dancing and drinking as singers in the town’s pubs revisited the region’s past in varying displays of competency at bush balladeering.

The 19th Century streetscape is one of the attractions of the town and it was featured as a backdrop to Lawson’s image on the new decimal currency paper note. We had a fine old time dancing up and down the street as the bush band bashed out old favourites such as The Heel and Toe Polka and before we knew it, a new decade had ticked over. Returning to Sydney at the end of 1994, we flew over the sunlit landscape below where a little over four years previously I had managed to take a wrong turn during the night drive down from Queensland and found the redoubtable Valiant bouncing down a dry creek-bed where the big, lazy, Detroit six cylinder, displacing 245 cubic inches, shrugged off the sucking sand and rounded river stones to shoulder past whipping branches as the headlights made crazy patterns in the darkness while my passengers made comments on my sanity and prowess as a driver.

When, somehow, I regained a passable dirt road without ripping out the sump, I told my captive audience that I had merely taken a scenic detour to enliven their journey. I have been back to Gulgong to two more occasions since then, in ’96 and ’97 to take in the Folk Festival at the turn of the year. I would have liked to have played a few sessions in the pubs with the group I helped get started in Sydney, but family circumstances and work commitments made it impossible. However, carting my second-best guitar, I strolled into a pub and, waiting my opportunity, I sang a song I had composed earlier in the year to a small crowd who had done nothing at all to provoke me.

The stimulus for composition was reports in the media about abuse of various kinds that got me thinking that there were more cycles that those of abuse. Standing in the pub that afternoon, what prompted me to unsling the instrument was the sight of an elderly, smiling woman who reminded me of my mother, who had died five years previously. As I say, Gulgong is a memorable spot.  The song featuring on this 31st visit to Quotidia has the title, The Cycle of Love [insert song]

The Germanic world occupies almost half of Quotidia in our next letter, what, with Fredrich Nietzsche, Thomas Mann and Frederich Holderlin seeking, nay, demanding our attention almost from the get go. However, we escape this highbrow buttonholing by fleeing to Singapore aboard a strange vessel where we will listen to rumours of Mick Jagger appearing in drag, perhaps,  in Bugis Street. So, until then, I wish you well and look forward to greeting you aboard the Kota Singapura as we cruise under the smouldering gaze of Krakatoa.

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 30 Perfect (as you can be)

Quentin Bega
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Letters From Quotidia Episode 30 Perfect (as you can be)

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia – a podcast by Quentin Bega for lovers of music, poetry, and the Crack- that most Irish of nouns which may encompass, news, gossip, fun, entertainment, and enjoyable conversation. Quotidia is that space, that place, where ordinary people lead ordinary lives. But where, from time to time, they encounter the extraordinary. Our thirtieth letter, entitled Perfect (as you can be), finds us somewhere in the middle of 17th Century China, after the fall of the Ming Dynasty.

A former mandarin official, Zha Shibiao, found something else to do with his life, now being surplus to requirements. He became one of the Four Masters of Anhui and one of the few capable of attaining the three perfections. This title goes back to the 8th Century when the Emperor Xuanzong, delighted by a painting given him, inscribed the words “three perfections” on it.  Since that time the three elements: painting, poetry and calligraphy have been appreciated as the ultimate expression of the visual arts.

The calligraphy, in itself of the highest aesthetic value, is further enhanced by the formal beauty of the poem, which comments of the subject-matter of the painting. The complex interplay of these elements, as mediated in the informed mind of the observer of the art-work, results in an increasingly sophisticated appreciation of the composition upon repeated viewings.

On the western fringe of Sydney, hanging on a wall of the box-room I use for writing, above the printer, is a reproduction of an exemplar of the three perfections. The original: a hanging scroll, ink on paper, measuring 97 inches tall by 28.5 inches wide. The sheer verticality of the format lends itself to the steep cliffs, distant mountains and forest trees depicted. A solitary figure, surrounded by tall trees and standing at the edge of a stream, looks out across the water and up the steep rock face. As we follow his gaze, our eyes are drawn along the gully to a temple which peeks out from behind a vertiginous bluff, one of several, which are surmounted by stands of trees.

Our eyes travel ever upwards to view the conical mountains in the distance. Zha Shibiao, signing himself, The Taoist of Plum Gully, composed the following poem for the landscape (maybe he painted the scene after writing the poem): A clear stream at the gully’s mouth,/On the stone path I enter the cold forest./It is late as I approach the front of the mountain,/The stream flows off into the distance. There is a sort of perfection found near running water under trees which are sighing in the breeze, surrounded by steep, wooded slopes flooded by summer sunlight.

There’s another sort of perfection found in numbers. Mathematicians claim that beauty, similar to that to be found in painting or literature or music, resides in the rarefied upper reaches of their discipline. Unable as I am, to ascend even the foothills of that discipline, I content myself with finding nuggets such as, six is the perfect number- Pythagoras and St Augustine agree, though for different reasons. Greek mathematicians regarded as perfect those numbers which equal the sum of their divisors that are smaller than themselves. Such a number is 6, for 1 + 2 + 3 = 6. Similarly, 28, which is 1+2+4+7+14=28.

The Bishop of Hippo cited the number of days it took God to create the world as the reason for 6’s perfection. Other claimants to be considered the perfect number among the single digits include, each and every one! Zero and one can encode the universe in binary form. Two is the smallest prime. Three is the Trinity, four, the points on the Compass, five the fingers of the hand, seven days in a week, the opening ceremony of the Olympics in Beijing started at 8 seconds and 8 minutes past 8 pm on 8 August 2008. There are nine muses in Greek mythology- don’t get me started on the whole nine yards! 

What, I wonder, would a perfect person be like? Michelangelo’s David? Perhaps one of The Stepford Wives? Or what about the perfect society? Calvin’s Geneva where, according to Steven Hicks, acts of God such as floods or earthquakes were acts of Satan, Copernicus labelled a fraud, attendance at church and sermons were compulsory where Calvin himself preached at great length three or four times a week. Or would you prefer Pol Pot’s Cambodia after year zero  where all culture and traditions within a society must be completely destroyed or discarded, and a new revolutionary culture must replace it?

Result: the genocide of the killing fields. In yearning for perfection, like so many other things in life, it is wise to remember the admonition to be careful what you wish for. In Australia, to call any achievement or attainment pretty ordinary is, in fact, a comprehensive put-down. But what about the situation so many find themselves in where to achieve the merely ordinary would be a blessing, if not a miracle? It was in the mid-70s, living in Wollongong, that I read Thomas Shapcott’s poem, Near the school for handicapped children.  It struck a chord then and that dissonant stack of notes has sounded again and again over the decades since, striking closer to home.

This compelling poem gets it right: I am hurt by my wholeness, the poet says when he spots the disabled child whose freckled face reminds him of nephews and how his limbs remind me of how straight/is my own spine and that I take my fingers/for granted. Love blazes out in the simple line, he has been dressed carefully. When the lights change to green, the child skips across the road like a skimming tambourine/brittle with music, the telling simile with which the poem ends. For that skipping child, though, and for so many, the light, signalling the ordinary, will be stuck on red forever. [ insert song]

The tablelands of Central New South Wales will feature in our next excursion where we will watch a 1970 VG Valiant churning down a dried-out riverbed. In Gulgong we will  listen to verse by Henry Lawson celebrating Cobb and Co.

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.