Letters From Quotidia Episode 41 Rose

Letters From Quotidia 41 Rose

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

For our 41st letter we are going to have to meet under the rose… adopt stealth as our watchword… and become au fait with smoke and mirrors as we wrap a cloak of secrecy around us..shhhh…Family secrets: everyone knows one or more about their own family and one or more about other families, if only through the media. What one generation may hang its head in shame over the next, more likely than not, just shrugs and says, so what!

The convict stain in Australian society became a badge of honour in the space of a generation or two.  Distance in time lends enchantment to a roguish ancestor or two in the family tree. People who seek information about their forbears are more likely to advertise relationship to a pirate than an accountant. Note also, that privacy for individuals becomes an increasingly rare commodity in inverse proportion to the growing obfuscation surrounding the activities of transnational corporations and governments.

The contradictory signals make reading the signs of the times about as reliable as the practice of palmistry. I am reliably informed the Buddha once said “Three things cannot long stay hidden: the sun, the moon and the truth”. Much as I admire the ancient sage, smog covers the sun and coal-fired power station emissions deal with the moon for a lot of people a lot of the time. And the truth? The Roman procurator of Judea sometime around the end of the third decade of the first century asked what that was and the question has reverberated down the millennia since.

When someone begins a sentence with the phrase, the fact is, chances are- it isn’t. Now, as usual, I don’t go to politicians or economists for answers, but poets. Denise Levertov wrote a poem entitled The Secret back in the 60s that is as thought-provoking now as then, Two girls discover/the secret of life /in a sudden line of/poetry./I who don’t know the/secret wrote/the line. Of course, the girls don’t reveal the line to Levertov’s informant and the poet knows that, now a week later, the line has been forgotten…I love them/for finding what/I can’t find,/and for loving me/for the line I wrote,/and for forgetting it/so that/a thousand times, till death/finds them, they may/discover it again in other/lines/ …or/assuming there is/such a secret, yes,/for that/most of all.

That is the sort of secret I can relate to. Unlike the secret that excludes everyone but the chosen few. Such as the rosy cross of the Rosicrucians. Roman banquet halls had roses painted on them so that matters discussed there under the influence of wine (sub vino) would also remain sub rosa or secret. The Victorians loved floriography- the language of flowers and would exchange nosegays, charmingly known as tussie-mussies, and parade around with these small bouquets trying to decipher what, if any, meaning lay hidden in the arrangements held by friends they might encounter in their perambulations.

So, if anyone presents you with an arrangement featuring aconite, aloe and lobelia, my advice would be for you to run a mile because, if my reading of the wreath is accurate, they represent misanthropy, grief and malevolence. What’s in a name? as Shakespeare asked so memorably in Romeo and Juliet.  I wonder what was in the minds of my paternal great-grandparents when they christened their daughter Rose.

When I produced the first draft of this letter five years ago, I was listening to The Grateful Dead’s version of the Dylan classic, Visions of Johanna, sung by Jerry Garcia before a crowd at the Delta Centre in Salt Lake City, Utah in February 1995: and thought it a fitting close to the 2015 release of 30 Trips Around the Sun: The Definitive Live Story.  The crowd sing along, they know the words, they know the secret the same way the two girls knew the secret in the Denise Levertov poem which was written around the same time Dylan was writing this.

The song’s on repeat as I drink doubles of Scotch and Cola out of a Rolling Stones’ tall glass and get torn up all over again over the fate of my father’s mother. I first knew her as a photograph of an elegant Edwardian lady in an oval frame hanging in the reception room of my childhood home in Cushendall, Northern Ireland. My enquiries were deflected, brushed off with the bare bones info that this was my father’s mother but not the one who raised him.

My nephew later did a little delving into family history and rattled some skeletons in the closet. My grandmother had taken a trip to Germany on a ship captained by her husband in 1914 and had been interned because war had broken out. She was returned to Ireland without her husband and, driven out of her mind with worry, was confined to an insane asylum where she died before the end of the war. Mental illness was a shameful thing for that generation so the only thing I heard was, she was delicate, highly strung, and other euphemisms of the kind.

My nephew, a journalist, gained access to her medical records through FOI legislation and I was hurt to read about her pain, set down in clinical prose by the treating physician. In a recent post my nephew writes: she is still remembered by her kin. Rose has a simple marker in the Bay cemetery, Glenariffe, and flowers are still being placed on her grave. : [insert song]

Our next visit to Quotidia takes us to the charnel house that was Yugoslavia as it split apart in 1991 and a brilliant poem by Goran Simic called The Calendar. While not as pleasant as other letters, I think we do need to re-visit difficult times and places in order that we do not stumble into the same desolation in future- a futile hope perhaps but a hope nevertheless…

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

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

Microphone (for many of the songs) Shure SM58

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

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

Letters From Quotidia Postcards Edition 10

PFQ10

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, the Postcards edition, number 10, a podcast by Quentin Bega where you will hear Banter, a traditional Irish folk group from Sydney’s outer west, present four tunes and songs drawn from the traditions of the English-speaking world. And, as always, Quotidia is that space, that place, where ordinary people lead ordinary lives. But where, from time to time, they encounter the extraordinary.

The first selection for our tenth postcard combines  the folk song, Sam Hall and the tune, The Palmer River (which is a transplant of the British tune ten thousand miles). The song has been in my repertoire for decades and when I discovered that there were chimney sweeps in my ancestry it made sense at a deep, even DNA, level. The song is twinned with a great tune recalling the gold-rush days in Far Northern Queensland. [insert song/tune]

Rhonda Valley Girls– A rousing songs about Welsh miners. We have seen the sad decline of old industries and processes over the past few decades and know all about the fate of workers in once valued occupations who find themselves out of work or offered a paltry alternative in the casualised service sector. The election of Donald Trump is, like Brexit, a manifestation of the anger of the demoralised working class who have been waiting vainly for generations for the elites to offer them something more than promises come election time. Whoa. Getting all soap-boxy here! Sam brought this song to the group. It was written by Frank Hennessy, who was born in Cardiff of  Irish parentage. With his family he has written and recorded songs that celebrate Cardiff and the Welsh experience. He has worked in radio for decades and currently presents the program Celtic Heartbeat on BBC Radio Wales. Take it away Sam! [insert song]

William Bloat/Sash– Belfast built the Titanic and was also a centre for the flax industry in the 19th Century. The song is a humorous boast concerning a man having a spot of trouble with his wife. We twin it with a tune beloved of Orange folk. Belfast was one of the great industrial cities of the British Isles in the 19th Century and, like other manufacturing centres, there was a great pride taken in the quality of goods produced in the city. According to Ulster blogger, Mark Thompson, This famous and brutal old black comedy murder ballad is very well known, but its origin less so. It was written by Helen’s Bay man Raymond Calvert. In December, 1926,  20 year old Raymond recited it for the first time at a theatre after-party. His wife Irene later said that “it was conceived as a piece of fun with no political significance whatsoever … the ballad has passed into the folk memory of Ulster people at home and abroad”. [insert song]

I first heard Fiddlers Green from the Dubliner’s album Plain and Simple in the mid-1970s. I do believe that Barney McKenna sang it- a rarity- for he usually just confined himself to being the best tenor banjo player in the known universe. I learned from the Mainly Norfolk website that the song was, according to Danny Spooner, “written by John Conolly in 1966, this song has become so much a part of the folksong culture that it’s often referred to as a traditional song—a great compliment indeed. Fiddler’s Green was a name for areas of docklands and ports frequented by sailors ashore. But over time the sailor’s imagination turned those districts into Utopia or even Heaven. Wouldn’t it be nice?” Herman Melville describes Fiddler’s Green, in his novella Billy Budd, Sailor, as a sailors’ term for the place on land “providentially set apart for dance-houses, doxies, and tapsters”. Also, Fiddler’s Green appears in Frederick Marryat’s novel The Dog Fiend,  published in 1856, as lyrics to a sailors’ song: At Fiddler’s Green, where seamen true/When here they’ve done their duty/The bowl of grog shall still renew/And pledge to love and beauty. What I find interesting: Many places associated with the U.S. Military have been named Fiddler’s Green, including:

  • The U.S. Marine Corps operated Firebase Fiddler’s Green  in the heart of the Helmand River Valley, in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.
  • An artillery Fire Support Base in Military Region III in Vietnam  in 1972, occupied principally by elements of 2nd Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry.
  • The base pub at the Joint Forces Training Base, Los Alamitos, CA
  • Former dining facility used by 2nd Cavalry Regiment at Fort Polk, LA
  • An artillery only pub for the 10th Marine Regiment, Camp Lejeune, NC The reason for this association is not immediately evident, but may stem from a poem The Cavalrymen’s Poem, also entitled “Fiddlers’ Green” which was published in the U.S. Army’s Cavalry Journal in 1923. Some of the lines are given below: Halfway down the trail to Hell in a shady meadow green,/are the Souls of all dead troopers camped near a good old-time canteen,/and this eternal resting place is known as Fiddlers’ Green… Marching past, straight through to Hell, the Infantry are seen,/accompanied by the Engineers, Artillery and Marine,/for none but the shades of Cavalrymen dismount at Fiddlers’ Green. ( my thanks to Wikipedia for the information given above) [insert song] That’s it! We’ll see ya next week for another dive into the sometimes murky but always fascinating world of folk music.

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

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

Microphone (for many of the songs) Shure SM58

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

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

Letters From Quotidia Episode 40 Patrimony

Letters From Quotidia Episode 40 Patrimony

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

In this, our 40th letter, you will be asked to make a life or death decision regarding four children, only two of whom can be saved. You’ll be asked to listen to several lines of poetry from two poets and you will be asked to name the astronauts who have walked on the moon. Of the three tasks above, which are you dreading most? Mmm, I thought so, having to listen to a bit of poetry.

This is the 40th letter called, Patrimony. When you reach a certain age, you look back and tot up what it is you have achieved and what, if anything, you can pass on. Consider a tramp dying in a ditch with nothing except holes in his pockets before the gates of a mansion filled with the products of opulence owned by a man who has fleets of ships and warehouses filled with consumer goods. Can you judge which man has more claim as to who is the better person? Which one is worthier of salvation? Do you need more information or will you leave the decision to a higher power, say, the Twittersphere?

Patrimony is defined by Merriam-Webster as anything derived from one’s father or ancestors. It may be material and exogenous, such as that mansion or something less tangible but nevertheless real- such as an inheritable characteristic such as a predisposition to…what? Let us conduct a mind experiment where the progeny of St Francis of Assisi and Snow White are set against the issue of, say, Adolph Hitler and Cruella De Ville. The children: a boy and a girl from each union, are stranded on a sinking ship. There are only two places left on the last lifeboat. You must choose who is to be saved. Do you save the girls? The boys? The pair from the forces of Good or those of the forces of Evil? Or one from each family? Choose. Perhaps you want to leave that to the Twittersphere, too…

Now lest any think that I am opposed to the digital universe which is disrupting so much of our lives and will continue to do so, let me say that I am more than happy to give it a big thumbs up. As an example, I am listening to a track that I thought was lost and gone forever- thanks to the power of musical streaming and downloading. I am referring to Billy the Mountain, by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention from an LP I bought in Wollongong in 1973 entitled Just Another Band from LA. I lost it, with a whole lot else, somewhere in the Seventies. For a fistful of digital dollars, I have recovered the lost item. Now, whether it’s a blessing or a curse remains to be seen.

But back to the questions posed earlier: have you consulted anyone? Played a lifeline, perhaps? Where, or to whom, do you turn? As for me- I trust the artists- and the poets, in particular. Countless millions of men have looked into a mirror as they shaved and conducted a silent Q&A as they started the day. Thomas Hardy must have had a similar colloquy sometime in the 19th Century. I am the family face;/ Flesh perishes, I live on,/ Projecting trait and trace/ Through time to times anon,/  And leaping from place to place/Over oblivion.

Let’s face it- our DNA is more durable than the stuff we squabble about endlessly. The years-heired feature that can/ In curve and voice and eye/ Despise the human span/ Of durance- that is I;/ The eternal thing in man,/ That heeds no call to die. I love that line- the eternal thing in man that heeds no call to die. When I think of the faults and foibles that I possess in more than abundant measure, I spread the blame down the endless years back to our ancestral mother and father, and thus, feel that I am able to go on living.

So, if I were you, I wouldn’t be so quick to discount the concept of Original Sin. Be like me and turn around the Biblical curse of the sins of the fathers visited on subsequent generations and use it as an excuse. Worth a try, anyway.  Yeah, I know, I’m not fooling anyone, am I? I can’t answer the question of who should be allowed in the lifeboat. Our whole world is a lifeboat and the few privileged individuals who have stood outside it have attested to the ineluctable conclusion that we are all inheritors of the most precious gift the universe can bestow- our blue planet.

Now I’m listening to the last track of 2015’s The Best of The Grateful Dead, Standing on the Moon, written by Robert Hunter back in the late Eighties. Only twelve people in the history of the Earth have, in fact, stood on the moon. How many can you name? After Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, I mean? Even one? Of course, this sort of taunting is meaningless today- by thumbing your device you will easily recite these names: Pete Conrad, Alan Bean, Alan Shepard, Edgar Mitchell, David Scott, James Irwin, John Young, Charles Duke, Eugene Cernan, and Harrison Schmitt. Thereby also thumbing your nose at me!

At ten years of age I thought I would be an astronaut, but guess what? So where do we turn when our dreams turn to ash? Me? I turn to poetry. Billy Collins, the American poet laureate, wrote a brilliant poem entitled On Turning Ten. The last stanza: It seems only yesterday I used to believe/there was nothing under my skin but light./If you cut me I could shine./But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life,/I skin my knees. I bleed. Do yourself a favour: find the whole poem and read it. Patrimony is really just the good stuff we tell each other. [insert song]

Family secrets, we all have them. The Buddha talked about three things that cannot be hidden. Denise Levertov wrote a delightful poem in the ‘sixties called, The Secret. And there is a secret language of flowers. Do you know what floriography is? All this and more is uncovered in the forty-first letter from Quotidia. Bring a tussie-mussie with you, please.

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

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

Microphone (for many of the songs) Shure SM58

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

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

Letters From Quotidia Episode 39 Outlaws

Letters From Quotidia Episode 39 Outlaws

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia – a podcast by Quentin Bega for lovers of music, poetry, and the Crack- that most Irish of nouns which may encompass, news, gossip, fun, entertainment, and enjoyable conversation. Quotidia is that space, that place, where ordinary people lead ordinary lives. But where, from time to time, they encounter the extraordinary. In the forum of Quotidia today you will learn about the homo sacer, that Robin Hood always beats the Sherriff in a popularity contest, what name a couple of lefty students gave the college rag they published and why, and finally how many heavily armed policemen it took to shoot dead the Australian bushranger, Ben Hall in 1865.

We need our outlaws- but only at the distance of myth and not in our day-to-day existence. The archaic Roman concept of homo sacer may be illuminating here: it refers to the accursed man, that is, a person who is outside the protection of the law and may be killed with impunity. Wanted: dead or alive and shoot on sight are aligned with this concept. But, in its ancient definition and in its etymology, it also refers to the sacred man; that is, a person who is outcast from society but cannot be used as a ritual sacrifice.

So then, the core meaning of homo sacer unites the unpunishability of his killing and the ban on his sacrifice! This curious linkage makes it fertile ground for learned debate but I will just limit myself to the reference in order to point to the ambiguity of our response, as a community, to the outlaw. The common folk have always celebrated those who stick it to the man. The common lot of the common man, woman and child is to endure the insults and imposts of authority as part of their lived experience. The legend of Robin Hood is probably as old as Chaucer and robbing the rich to give to the poor will always have massive popular support if for no other reason that there are far fewer of the former than the latter.

Billy the Kid lives on in the imagination of novelists, biographers, screenwriters and, more potently, in the games of children. Born a Catholic in Northern Ireland, I absorbed tales of heroes and rebels from Cú Chulainn to James Connolly. Cú Chulainn was quite a lad; listen to this anecdote about him, One day, Cú Chulainn overhears the seer, Cathbad, teaching his pupils. One asks him what that day is auspicious for, and Cathbad replies that any warrior who takes arms that day will have everlasting fame. Cú Chulainn, though only seven years old, goes to the king, Conchobar, and asks for arms. But when Cathbad sees this he grieves, because he had not finished his prophecy—the warrior who took arms that day would be famous, but his life would be short. Soon afterwards, he sets off on a foray and kills three warriors who had boasted they had killed more Ulstermen than there were Ulstermen still living. He returns in his battle frenzy still, and the people are afraid he will slaughter them all. Conchobar’s wife leads out the women and they bare their breasts to him. The seven-year-old averts his eyes, and the Ulstermen are able to wrestle him into a barrel of cold water, which explodes from the heat of his body. They put him in a second barrel, which boils, and a third, which warms to a pleasant temperature.

In late 1969, I was in my college room with the British-born co-editor of the magazine we had named TET after the North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong coordinated attacks of the year before. The mag was filled with the bog-standard lefty student satire of the late 60s. We were coolly ironic and I was playing I am the very model of the modern major-general at volume. Then, the door of the room burst open and a phalanx of full-throated students started singing: A great crowd had gathered outside of Kilmainham…the opening line of one of the most popular rebel songs- James Connolly. After this rousing riposte to the quintessentially British ditty I had been playing, we all laughed good-naturedly.

But that was to change: within a couple of years, there was no more room for satire as a polity more grim and driven by the increasing violence in the province and, particularly, Belfast, replaced the SRC of which I had been a member and which had funded the production of the magazine. I guess that the barrel I had been in started out pleasantly warm but, all too soon, became too hot for me to handle. Not being Cú Chulainn, I began planning for a life away from the increasingly bloody streets of Belfast. In Australia, I found a place that was a sanctuary that was familiar but strange at the same time.

The anti-authoritarianism, sense of humour, folk music and love of the underdog were like an old coat but the ocean rips, leeches, spiders and swooping black and white birds punctured the homelike elements, somewhat. Before too long I was playing in a couple of folk ensembles, one Irish and one Australian. Most people think of Ned Kelly as the icon of Aussie outlaws and I suppose he is. Sidney Nolan certainly thought so, producing a series of paintings featuring the outlaw with his iron helmet on horseback in a variety of evocative Australian landscapes.

But the bushranger I first sang about was Ben Hall, shot dead in ambush at age 27 in 1865 by eight heavily-armed policemen. Bill Dargin he was chosen to shoot the outlaw dead,/The troopers then fired madly and they filled him full of lead,/They rolled him in his blanket and strapped him to his prad,/ And they led him through the streets of Forbes, to show the prize they had. We need our outlaws. [insert song]

In our 40th letter we will consider the curious pairing of St Francis of Assisi and Snow White against that of Adolf Hitler and Cruella De Ville, endure the pathetic gratitude the narrator feels when he is reunited with Billy the Mountain, enjoy respite in lines of poetry from Thomas Hardy and American laureate Billy Collins. We also, find ourselves standing on the moon looking out to the variegated blue and white opal of planet earth.

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

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

Microphone (for many of the songs) Shure SM58

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

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

Letters From Quotidia Episode 38 Airman

Letters From Quotidia Episode 38 Airman

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia – a podcast by Quentin Bega for lovers of music, poetry, and the Crack- that most Irish of nouns which may encompass, news, gossip, fun, entertainment, and enjoyable conversation. Quotidia is that space, that place, where ordinary people lead ordinary lives. But where, from time to time, they encounter the extraordinary. Your encounters, in Letter 38, will include a child’s apotheosis, a poem called Because, a tropical paradise, and how a Little Boy created hell on earth in a millisecond.

Who do you think you are? What a wonderful title for a TV concept. We are all a bit curious about who we are and where we come from. As kids, of course, we riff on the idea that we are, in fact, the progeny of aristocrats or some impossibly glamorous couple who have somehow become sundered from their child who is now, for some unfathomable reason, languishing in a common-or-garden family from Dullsville.

If only we could be re-united! Can you imagine the celebrations! How they would be marked by fireworks and headlines and flashing bulbs as the paparazzi of the world clambered over one another to gain the perfect shot of the perfect lost child now returned to the bosom of the perfect family waiting in their until-now-imperfect paradise which is now complete and unassailable.

Some say this is the reason that stories of blue heaven are replete in the literature of the world’s religious traditions: at heart, we are all kids yearning for apotheosis. In 1972 I first read James McAuley’s poem Because and it made me cry. Just arrived in Australia from Ireland, I was trying to acclimatise by reading the poets of the place. This seemed (and seems) to me as good a way of getting to know the lie of the land as any other.

Feeling homesick, I wondered if I would see my parents and siblings again. My father had dammed up his Irish blood/Against all drinking praying fecklessness,/And stiffened into stone and creaking wood… Small things can pit the memory like a cyst:/Having seen other fathers greet their sons,/I put my childish face up to be kissed/After an absence. The rebuff still stuns/My blood. McAuley wrote about a time when fathers were distant and mothers affectionate. This equation obtained on my side of the world; additionally, in my time, kids were also meant to be thankful for the peace won by their elders and betters without asking too many questions.

In 1964 we had returned to Northern Ireland, for the last time, from the sunny sojourn that was my childhood; from the Lotus Land that was the small Caribbean island of Aruba where my father had worked for twenty-five years as a tug-master for the oil company founded by old man Rockefeller, one of the icons of Capitalism. From time to time, to break the monotony, I would rummage about in the attic of a rainy day- and the small coastal village of Cushendall had more than its share of these that year, as I remember it.

There was, in an old, green steamer trunk, brass-bound with an ornate hasp and decaying leather handles, piles of newspapers, copies of The Irish News from the years of the Second World War. And I began to read: there in black and white was the frisson of living in exciting times. A newspaper that doesn’t know if it will publish the next day, courtesy of a German bomb, has rather more focus than the indulged rags of peaceful epochs. A bit like a man facing execution- as Doctor Johnston said- it concentrates the mind wonderfully.

At any rate, this was history. My father and mother were in its pages, in very, very, small print- he hadn’t been a general at Stalingrad but has watched a U-Boat blow a friend out of the water, literally. Strange how glibly that phrase “blown out of the water” falls from the mouths of those who have never been closer to conflict than raised voices, a shove or a drunken slap.

They were on the Maracaibo run bringing crude oil from Venezuela to the oil-refinery in Aruba. He never spoke about it to me- it was part of the family legend and some things you knew better than to broach. My mother, meanwhile, an ocean away, helped console the shattered survivors of the Luftwaffe’s attacks on Belfast. They made monsters in those days, and even the ordinary people seemed larger-than-life.

But I was born into the next age, the Age of Anxiety. In the early sixties, Castro was a renegade on the rampage not too far to the north- but somehow comic with his beard and cigar, a Latin Groucho Marx rather than the more imposing German Karl. However, the Cuban missile crisis sparked nervous cocktail conversations in the patios of expatriate Americans: You can bet the refinery will be hit! The periodicals were full of details of how to build bomb shelters. The commie bastards would, of course, be utterly destroyed. MAD was more than a magazine title, in those days.

As I write this,spring approaches western Sydney: I hear and see helicopters passing overhead. I think they may be police aircraft and I wonder who or what they are searching for. 75 years ago last August, the crew of a B-29 captained by Colonel Paul Tibbets dropped a bomb nicknamed Little Boy on the Japanese city of Hiroshima killing 80,000 people instantly, Burned onto the step, cracked and watery red,/the mark of the blood that flowed as intestines melted to mush:/a shadow. Who were you, shadow, and what were your dreams that morning as you approached  those concrete steps? Listen to the song Airman, now [insert song]  

In our next visit to Quotidia we will encounter heroes, outlaws, villains and visit a college dorm where a door will spring open as two musical antipodes are revealed in conflict in the stark Belfast milieu of the late 1960s. We also learn how bare-breasted women and barrels of water are necessary for cooling the martial ardour of the great Irish warrior, Cú Chulainn.

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

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

Microphone (for many of the songs) Shure SM58

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

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

Letters From Quotidia Episode 37 Harlequin’s Poles

Letters From Quotidia Episode 37 Harlequin’s Poles

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia – a podcast by Quentin Bega for lovers of music, poetry, and the Crack- that most Irish of nouns which may encompass, news, gossip, fun, entertainment, and enjoyable conversation. Quotidia is that space, that place, where ordinary people lead ordinary lives. But where, from time to time, they encounter the extraordinary. Cue spooky space music as a hologrammatic narrator shows you dystopias from the past, present and future in this 37th Letter with the weird title, Harlequin’s Poles.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Microphone (for many of the songs) Shure SM58

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

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

Letters From Quotidia Postcards Edition 9

Letters From Quotidia Postcards edition 9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Microphone (for many of the songs) Shure SM58

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Microphone (for many of the songs) Shure SM58

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

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

Letters From Quotidia Episode 35 Sing Along

Letters From Quotidia Episode 35 Sing Along

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Microphone (for many of the songs) Shure SM58

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

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

Letters From Quotidia Episode 34 This Cold Bed

Quentin Bega
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Letters From Quotidia Episode 34 This Cold Bed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Microphone (for many of the songs) Shure SM58

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

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