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

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

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, episode 187 – a podcast by Quentin Bega for lovers of music, poetry, and the Crack- that most Irish of nouns which may encompass, news, gossip, fun, entertainment, and enjoyable conversation. Quotidia is that space, that place, where ordinary people lead ordinary lives. But where, from time to time, they encounter the extraordinary.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, episode 186 – a podcast by Quentin Bega for lovers of music, poetry, and the Crack- that most Irish of nouns which may encompass, news, gossip, fun, entertainment, and enjoyable conversation. Quotidia is that space, that place, where ordinary people lead ordinary lives. But where, from time to time, they encounter the extraordinary.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Letters From Quotidia Episode 184 And Leave Him There 10

Letters From Quotidia Episode 184 And Leave Him There Part 10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Letters From Quotidia Episode 183 And Leave Him There 9

Letters From Quotidia Episode 183 And Leave Him There Part 9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Letters From Quotidia Episode 182 And Leave Him There Part 8

Letters From Quotidia Episode 182 And Leave Him There Part 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Letters From Quotidia Episode 181 And Leave Him There 7

Letters From Quotidia Episode 181 And Leave Him There Part 7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Letters From Quotidia Episode 180 And Leave Him There 6

Letters From Quotidia Episode 180 And Leave Him There Part 6

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, Episode 180. Last we knew our narrator was on the way to being the worse for wear, but he has stopped imbibing for the moment- he seems to have settled down and is reading from a volume of Romantic poets. He gazes at the wall next to the bedroom where there is a tasteful reproduction of what is said to be the most expensive map in all the world: it is Waldseemuller’s Universalis Cosmographia of 1507, the only surviving copy of 1000 original prints. The Library of Congress purchased it for $10,000,000 and it has been called “America’s birth certificate” because, for the first time, it showed the New World as a separate continent. He looks at the twelve panels that comprise the map-maker’s art in wonderment:

Any attempt to be a cartographer of the present is bound to fail; there are too many fracture-lines running in a crazy pattern. The hammer blow delivered to the ancien regime by the first great war was followed by others in quick succession; depression, global war, the atomic apocalypse, explosions of technology and population. But it all gets back to a solitary brain (that may or may not contain the mind) carried around in a body (that may or may not contain a soul). Watching newsreel footage of the masses recorded in their moments of revolution, despair, and jubilation distances you from the obvious truth- there, that face, just about to disappear behind the police horse’s flank- looked just like your son the last time you saw him as he waved a cheery good-bye…can it be twelve years already? Name, fame, the celebrity game is just so much blather. We are all used to yet another icon exposed on the breakfast news as venal or sad or pathetic- just like us really.

I remember when the great cynic of English poetry in this- or rather, the previous, century, Philip Larkin was taken off in one of those ships with black sails. Almost before the vessel had vanished around a misty bend of the River Styx, we were breathlessly informed that the poet had a collection of what was described as repulsive pornography, and as for the content of his diaries…well! But I will always think softly of him, not because of his life or works but an anecdote concerning him. He was, as I recall, driving back towards his home in Hull along the motorway, listening to the radio and tapping his fingers on the steering wheel in time with the windshield wipers when he had to pull onto the hard shoulder, blinded by tears, because, on the radio, someone had begun reciting a sonnet by Wordsworth.

Surprised by joy- impatient as the Wind/I turned to share the transport- Oh! with whom/But Thee, deep buried in the silent tomb,/That spot which no vicissitudes can find?/Love, faithful love, recalled thee to my mind-/But how could I forget thee? Through what power,/ Even for the least division of an hour,/Have I been so beguiled as to be blind/To my most grievous loss!- That thought’s return/Was the worst pang that sorrow ever bore,/Save one, one only, when I stood forlorn,/Knowing my heart’s best treasure was no more;/ That neither present time, nor years unborn/Could to my sight that heavenly face restore. [play Surprised by Joy]

Surprised by joy…it’s been a long time… The eighties were an awful time and an awesome time, too, I suppose. Never mind the crumbling of communism, the Falklands war, the marriage of Diana and Charles and all the other headline events. The dislocations in world history meant little to me. I had hammer-blows enough in the personal sphere to absorb. Unemployment, loss of my father, then mother, serious injury of my younger son, then the loss of my firstborn son began my personal catalogue of horrors, and they filled my world during the decade of- what did the eighties mean to you? To me it was global ping-pong: living in Sydney, then Belfast then back to Sydney as the hammer-blows rained down. Not even the…windfall that came my way so recently has provided solace- the cold wind still keeps blowing through me.

The larger events were only on TV and newspapers- not real for me at all. And as I mourned my son, I remembered my brushes with death as a younger male. Note to mothers, we all think, as teenage boys, that we will live forever, no matter what we do. When I was about twelve, or maybe thirteen, I built a raft. My friends and I lived in and on and near the water. Why not? The blue, coral-fringed lagoons of Aruba were paradise for us. Swimming and snorkelling and spear fishing and catching moray eels on hand lines, yanking them out of their coral caves and spinning them round our heads and breaking their backs on the sharp coral ridges above the surface at low water… filled our days… and beach parties under the stars, and watching from the beach the fireworks display set on barges out in the lagoon on the fourth of July, punctuated our nights- such was the influence of the water fringing that small island of my early youth.

One Saturday morning we cycled to a seldom-used beach; there we built a flotilla of rafts. Flotsam and jetsam. We dragged pallets washed in to the shore and shoved driftwood and a variety of containers in through the slats. Three of us, like tropical Huck Finns, launched the unlikely craft into the water. We laughed and joked with one another as the current carried us along the coast. But we started to drift further apart under the influence of the current and waves and the differences in the seaworthiness of our individual rafts. I lagged further behind- not being much of a marine designer. My friends had rounded the point on the coastal current while I…well, I had been daydreaming, looking towards the distant coast of Venezuela wondering what life was like there, and when next I checked my bearings, discovered I was much further from the shore than I had been only, it seemed , moments before. As I vacillated, wondering whether to attempt the swim to the shore, it seemed to rush into the distance.

Desert island adventure? No, just fear. The raft bobbed and spun in the choppy offshore sea, and I clung to it feeling sick. Alone in the sun I had time enough to recall the drowned, native, fisherman brought in a few months before to the boat-slip near the Esso club. My first sight of a dead body, I had watched, as his friends tried frantically to empty his lungs and bring him back to life- but only froth and mucus for all their labour. He had dived off the boat to try to clear the anchor, but his leg had become entangled in the rope, and he was dead before they could cut him free. A matter of minutes, they said. Not for the last time, I promised God, with whom, then, I was on speaking terms…I promised Him not to be so stupid again…if only. The denouement? Well, I’m still here.

Mr Flaherty, a big noise in the company, whose son, Steve, I hung out with occasionally, had a cabin cruiser that he used to take friends, and other corporate big guns from the States, out into the Caribbean in search of game fish. Coming back from a successful morning’s hunt for aquatic game, I guess he pulled another prize from the water. Although, judging from what he said to me and repeated to my parents on the phone that night, I was valued at much less than the fish in the capacious icebox of his boat. It was an early brush with metaphysics and the larger questions, I think they are called. I do prefer the way that artists address these larger questions- professional preachers and career carers usually leave me cheering for the grim reaper. And one of the larger artists addressing these questions is Les Murray, Australia’s premier poet. Listen to this- from his poem, The Quality of Sprawl:  

Sprawl is the quality/of the man who cut down his Rolls-Royce/into a farm utility truck, and sprawl/is what the company lacked when it made repeated efforts/to buy the vehicle back and repair its image./Sprawl is doing your farming by aeroplane, roughly,/of driving a hitchhiker that extra hundred miles home./It is the rococo of being your own still centre,/It is never lighting cigars with ten-dollar notes:/that’s idiot ostentation and murder of starving people./Nor can it be bought with the ash of million-dollar deeds./ Sprawl is Hank Stamper in Never Give an Inch/bisecting an obstructive official’s desk with a chainsaw./Not harming the official. Sprawl is never brutal/though it’s often intransigent…/Sprawl gets up the nose of many kinds of people/(every kind that comes in kinds) whose futures don’t include it…/ No, sprawl is full-gloss murals on a council-house wall./ Sprawl leans on things. It is loose-limbed in its mind./Reprimanded and dismissed/it listens with a grin and one boot up on the rail/of possibility. It may have to leave the earth…/Being roughly Christian, it scratches the other cheek/and thinks it unlikely. Though people have been shot for sprawl. [play Patrimony] 

What is he doing? He’s on his feet and appears to be dancing! Has he got a second wind? No, he’s sprawled on the rug now. Lucky for him it is a thick woollen affair with colourful ethnic designs and tasteful tassels at each end. He lies there motionless. He now fumbles in his dressing gown pocket. Is it to retrieve his panic button to summon help? He certainly seems to require it. Oh, he’s sipping from his flask. He screws the cap shut and laboriously gets to his feet and resumes his seat. He gazes out the window and taps his fingers on the armrest. I think this is a safer use of appendages than his rather pathetic  previous use of the lower ones! Now he is nodding off, he needs the rest, poor man, what with all that mixing of pharmaceuticals and alcohol. And nary a thing to eat, too.  

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

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

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

Letters From Quotidia Episode 179 And Leave Him There 5

Letters From Quotidia Episode 179 And Leave Him There Part 5

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, Episode 179. Time hangs heavy on the hands of anyone who has little to do but mark time, who wait, for- a verdict? A diagnosis? A visit? And so, it is for our apartment dweller as he looks at lights flashing out there in the Manhattan night. He seems to feel that pacing back and forth in front of the vista is a suitable way to pass the time as he thinks of how he is really looking forward to meeting his wife later in the day. And he thinks about his grandson, so let us re-join him as he paces. He decides to fill his flask again from one of the crystal decanters on the counter of the built-in bar.  

Small children have an affinity with those the all-conquering youth generation and their go-getting parents call old. They respond to the easy tolerance and gentle understanding of their grandparents. Alas, I didn’t experience this at first hand as both sets of grandparents had died before I was born.  And I regret that I am not fated to become an indulgent grandad surrounded by the progeny of my progeny. But I have one grandson, one link to the universe beyond, the only way in which my being can truly live into the future. My God, how I quake at the idea that anything will happen to him before he…

I don’t buy, and never have, that hogwash that claims all parents as evil, warping pathologies in the development of their children. The strident attacks on the supposedly artificial nuclear family by ideologues of left and right never quite rang true- the generation gap, for me and lots of people I know, was not a yawning chasm boiling with hellfire, but a difference, not all that astounding, comprising difference in age, experience and changing culture and expectations. As the kids of Seroe Colorado Junior High in Aruba would have responded, as they did to any fatuity: Duhhh!!

Of course, what I have said is a generalisation and I was to encounter in the stories of other people’s lives a vast, often dark, forest where fiends do, indeed, lurk. However, the tabloids of paper and TV would have us believe that behind every vicarage curtain a satanic coven meets and …you know as well as I the variety of paranoia peddled, the range of hypotheses hyped by those who profess an interest, not all of it well-intentioned, in the care of children.

As young parents, we were anxious to do the right thing, and, like so many of our generation we read the Spock child-rearing manual with the same avidity that theological students use scouring Scripture for the meaning of existence. I wish I had found out earlier than I did that we would have been better employed assimilating the words of wisdom uttered by the pointy-eared Vulcan of the same name. Appropriately enough, Star Trek lives on. As do so many innocent and enabling fictions.

In our house in Cushendall, my father set up, in a front room overlooking the lawns, his beloved hi-fi gear, B&O of course…his AKAI reel to reel, state of the art when he proudly purchased it a couple of years before- a retirement present to himself, perhaps?… his writing desk and chess sets and comfortable chairs. An ornately carved chest smelling of camphor gleamed dully in one corner and, around the walls photographs in polished wooden frames peopled by grimly countenanced Victorian and Edwardian gents and ladies.

Two photographs in oval frames on adjacent walls, stared into space at right angles to one another. One his father, an imposing moustachioed man in his sea-captain’s uniform; the other a pale and delicate young woman in a ruffled blouse closed at the neck with a cameo brooch – his birth mother. He was comfortable with reminders, not of his twenty-five years in the sun, but with the mute artefacts that recalled the early years of the century. He thought of those war years when he was just a small child and, as I read in my anthology, a poem by Joseph Brodsky, the cataclysm that still reverberates to this day is summoned in words: Nineteen-fourteen! Oh, nineteen-fourteen!/Ah, some years shouldn’t be let out of quarantine!/Well, this is one of them…/In Paris, the editor of Figaro/is shot dead by the wife of the French finance/minister, for printing this lady’s/ steamy letters…/Jean Jaures. He who shook his fist/at the Parliament urging hot heads to cool it,/dies, as he dines, by some bigot’s bullet/in a cafe. Ah, those early, single/shots of Nineteen-fourteen! ah, the index finger/of an assassin! ah white puffs in the blue acrylic!/There is something pastoral, nay! Idyllic/about these murders./Well, to make these things disappear forever,/the Archduke is arriving at Sarajevo;/and there is in the crowd that unshaven, timid/youth, with his handgun…

The texts from those times are as dated as the flock wallpaper of an Edwardian drawing room. The inheritors of modernism, those pop mavens, working in animation, the written word, sound, and stone as well as on canvas have made everything glowing and immediate. Simple, bold, fluorescent statements replace the mandarin meanderings of those sonorous artistic aristocrats of the first tranche of the twentieth century. Purple prose and blue blood is replaced by an apotheosis in green- Warhol’s wall of dollar bills becomes the central image on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel of our imagination. Radix malorum est cupiditas- croaks the Pardoner- the love of money is the root of all evil. Well, those roots have spread under the foundations of our civilisation.

So, what’s new? Maybe nothing, there have been greed and violence as well as selfless love and self-denial since Adam was a lad. I’m not a pundit; I can’t predict what my cat will do next never mind the whole, vast shebang. But I know that the language has been ripped back to reveal…what? Orwell was wrong; it wasn’t the thought police of a totalitarian state that eviscerated expression. We did it to ourselves, pursuing the dream, once called American. It responds only to monosyllables or those articulated words that it sanctions: words like Proactive, Functionality, Multitasking, Consumerism. And in the race the swift make sure there is nothing left for those who lag too far behind-not even what our predecessors would have called language.

Eleanor Brown in her poem, The Lads, says it really well: The lads, the lads, away the lads;/we are the Boys, who make this Noise: hoo, ha; hoo, ha;/a-way, awayawayaway, a-way, away;/ere we go, ere we go, ere we go;/we are the Boys, who make this Noise;/ hoo ha;/Away the lads, I love your poetry,/It strips the artform down to nakedness,/distilling it to spirituous drops/of utter poetry./I like the way you shout it all so loud,/revelling in the shamelessness/ of its repetitiousness; the way it never stops/

It may not be as obvious to you, as it is to me, that our recent Manhattanite is drinking more than would be strictly necessary to just take the edge off. Of course, he can indulge his taste in expensive drops now- and his wife, who can keep him in check is not returning until later in the day, so he’s probably thinking that he might just as well push the boat out. But there is no one here to help him celebrate? If that’s the word, so perhaps he has just decided to get Hammered, Wasted, Buzzed, Sloshed, Pie-eyed, Loaded, Skunked, Three sheets to the wind all on his own. I’m not sure any of these metaphors quite capture the strange mood he is in. And I’m not sure what impact the mixture of alcohol and the drugs he is taking is having on his mental state. Still, you only live once, eh?

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

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

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

Letters From Quotidia Episode 178 And Leave Him There 4

Letters From Quotidia Episode 178 And Leave Him There Part 4

Welcome to Letters From Quoitidia Episode 178, where we find our protagonist perched in his eyrie high above Manhattan and wondering what to do next as he frets and fusses with his medication which is having the effect of preventing “sleep, that knits up the ravelled sleave of care”- that quote floats through his mind and he wanders along the bookcases that line one of the walls. He replaces his volume of 20th Century poems and lifts down John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, which was a book he really identified with in his twenties when he felt the constraints of the world pressing in around him as he struggled with debt, the pressures of work and family. [play Cannery Row]

One of my first discoveries in the Old World was the existence of old people. Aruba was an expatriate society with one purpose only: to refine the crude oil from Venezuela and send it off to the gas guzzlers of the American Dream. Hence, it was an artificial social construct using any indices you might select. Even the water was, in a sense, artificial. It didn’t fall from the sky or run along river courses but was piped in from a desalinisation plant and was more valuable than the crude oil. I recall where an employee of the company, actually one of the rising young executives, was summarily dismissed for tampering with his water meter. Through youthful eyes all the adults were old- but, in reality, they were mostly in their thirties or forties. Really old people, like my parents, had attained the impossible age of fifty- younger than I am now.

The houses, schools, clubs, boats, cars, clothes, toys, tools, furniture, fittings, fixtures- all new. Set down by American Capital on a small desert island only a generation before. Aruba, at that time, was owned by the Dutch but the Americans built a refinery and constructed a quasi-colonial enclave- we actually called it the Colony– on one end of the island which was walled off from the rest of the island, the gates manned by armed police to ensure its isolation. The food also was, for most part, freighted in and sold from a commissary.

Now, Ireland was different. When my father returned upon his retirement from the company- I had preceded him and my mother to start boarding school some months before- he took me up a narrow, rutted, lane in the country to visit his stepmother. It was a small one-storey Irish cottage with whitewashed walls and thatched roof. The wooden half-door was open and inside was an open fire with an iron kettle swung over it. There was an open dresser with gleaming crockery, an old wooden bench, and a dog asleep on a rug. Decades later I was to visit a theme park in the south of Ireland with an almost identical cottage, outside and in. My father knocked and we entered. A small, stooped, wizened woman with deep fissures in her face smiled faintly at us as she hobbled out of a darkened room off to one side of the main living area. This was his stepmother. After introductions, he told me to go play by the stream that ran close by, while they talked.

There I had one of those almost preternatural encounters that puzzles me to this day: across the stream was a tinker lad- one of the travelling people of Ireland. Commonly called the Gypsies, they are the subject of prejudice wherever they go. He called across the stream to me, but I could not understand what he was saying. He repeated his words- still no comprehension. The next thing I remember, we were throwing stones at one another. Then I heard my father call my name; the tinker-lad dropped the stone he was about to throw, laughed, and disappeared into the bushes lining the stream. I walked back feeling, feeling…and the feeling persists to this day…somehow cheated.

When we were settled in the car I asked my father about his real mother, but he answered only that she had died when he was a small boy. It wasn’t until much later that I was to receive a fuller account. I saw old people on the streets, at Mass, when I visited relatives, or in attendance at the funerals and wakes that were a not unusual feature of country life in the Glens of Antrim: I ought, in short, to have been inoculated by the…Methusaleh-isation of my life in a society with a more natural demographic spread than the one I had been living in but remember being shocked to the core by the evidence of rampant geriatric carnality encountered when I worked for a summer on the Isle of Man at a holiday camp a few years after my return.

I was sixteen years old and, for the first time in my life, truly on my own, away from the influence of adults who had an interest in or responsibility for me. I had completed my O- Levels and flew to that strange island in the middle of the Irish Sea with Sean Flynn, a friend from school a year older than me. He was a day boy who travelled by bus from Ballymena, and I travelled by bus from Cushendall- a day boy too, apart from a few months boarding- of which, more later. But to get back to the rampant geriatric carnality- oh I wished I possessed in greater measure the easy English approach to sexuality in the mid-sixties which was somewhat in advance of the Irish kind practised in the repressed Catholic country parish I lived in.

One night, returning to my cabin after washing the pots and pans in the cavernous kitchen which catered for the happy campers, I heard low grunts and thumps coming from the other side of my very basic sleeping quarters. Thinking it was a dog at the garbage cans placed there, I rounded the corner to confront Ernie and Madge engaged in what I was later to learn was called a knee-trembler. Ernie was a janitor, married to Edna who was head of the cleaners at the camp. Madge was one of the cooks in the kitchen. What was said to me was short but not incongruent with the activity I had so inconsiderately interrupted. Whispering my revelation to Sean, after I had prodded him awake upon my stunned return, I was puzzled by his failure to fall out of his bunk at the enormity I had just related: But Jesus, Sean, I said, they’ve both got grey hair!

After I had returned from Aruba, I was shoe-horned into a prestigious boarding college that my parents had arranged for me to attend. I was domiciled in St Marys one of the Houses of the college. It was the most recent addition to the boarding accommodation of this august institution- at least that’s what we were told- the college, in fact, was a relatively recent response of the Catholic bishops who were determined to use education as the wedge to overcome the sectarianism of the Northern Ireland statelet. And so, a faux castle overlooking the Irish Sea was bought and filled with callow Catholic boys. And it grew, and overseas students helped to fund its expansion, the latest of which was St Marys which was a three-storey honey-brick construction.

It was, unlike the more communal arrangements of the other Houses, a single-room complex. One room and one student. No dormitory living for us! And the priest who had charge of it had, on what my memory can only remember as Walpurgis Night, been called away suddenly to a family emergency. Don’t ask me how it got out. But seeping through the walls of our individual minimalist rooms- seeping through the walls was the information- we’re on our own. WE’RE ON OUR OWN! I had been caned just that day by that very same holy man, that guardian of our Catholicity, that warder in charge of St Marys.

It happened this way: we were up on the slopes overlooking the Irish Sea, up above the college, four friends and I, playing poker and smoking, and we missed curfew. So, as we trooped into St Marys, the four recalcitrants and I, Father Grinsin was waiting with his thin instrument at the door. Ten times the cane hissed and thwacked- one on each hand. With pride, I can relate that not one of us yelped in pain. We sucked it in. But, you know, I can still feel it to this day. I was sitting at my desk, reading and taking notes on the novel we were studying in English, rubbing my smarting palms between my legs. I was really getting bored by the doings of  Ralph and Piggy so when the seeping seeped into me-I was ready. Knock, knock, who’s theeere

I opened my door and was hit in the face by a wet mop. Fabulous. Was I ever waiting for this! I charged out of the room and pursued my attacker down the corridor. He dropped the mop, and I ripped the handle out and threw it at him. It sailed past his head and stuck in a prefect’s door at the end of the passageway. It was brilliant! The door opened and I screamed an obscenity and the door shut. Ha! Water bombs, pillow fights, beds upturned, it was brilliant! Although we didn’t say brilliant back then. Brill was the in-word at the time. It was Brill. The strangest thing was…there were no repercussions to speak of. We all just tidied away as best we could (mind you, the place was still a bit of a shambles!) and, when Grinsin returned the next day and conferred with his prefects and the powers-that-be, well, nothing. It was as though nothing had ever taken place.

We all agreed that it had not, really, happened! The prefects, sotto voce, were scathing over the next while as they condemned our utter disregard for the proprieties, for besmirching Grinsin’s grief, for sullying the memory of an old, old man who had lived an exemplary life and brought Father Grinsin into the world to look over us. Yeah, right- I thought then, and now… Here are lines from Roger McGough’s poem, Let Me Die A Youngman’s Death. Let me die a youngman’s death / not a clean and inbetween / the sheets holywater death / not a famous-last -words / peaceful out of breath death / When I’m 73 / and in constant good tumour / may I be mown down at dawn / by a bright red sports car / on my way home / from an allnight party… / Let me die a youngman’s death / not a free from sin tiptoe in / candle wax and waning death / not a curtains drawn by angels borne / “what a nice way to go” death/

Does anyone here among the demographic that this podcast is aimed at, admit to acting out dramas of the mind when you are on your own? Unobserved. I know today that the younger folk among us do not have any inhibitions at all. And good on them! But I noticed that our protagonist seemed to be miming throwing a spear earlier. I’m a bit concerned that he seems to be drinking more than his medicine lately, too!

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

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

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