Thursday, 12 April 2007
Poetic mooching like a meerkat, with Cab and Betty Boop
I went for a walk in a nearby nature reserve yesterday. Being the fens it consisted of flooded gravel pit lakes, flat vistas and squalls of midges, but still beautiful. Until relatively recently (the 18thCentury) malaria was actually endemic to the fens and many a poor Scottish or Dutch prisoner of war, used to dig the drainage dykes in the 17th Century) are buried in local churchyards or even unmarked at the sides of the bigger dykes. Anyway at least quinine is now no longer required but insect repellent is handy especially as the weather becomes hotter and the midges grow sharper teeth.
I am not a fast walker, I am an ambler, the purpose is not to get from A to B quickly but to mooch in a contemplative sort of way. Mooching seems to have gone out of fashion and I highly advocate its return. Mooching round the lakes I am passed by four sweating runners (one accompanied by knackered spaniel, obviously dying to be allowed to mooch and sniff) and two older ladies with wristband weights who are striding out at one of those power walk paces that almost but not quite breaks into a slow trot. Power walking seems a sure way of ensuring you neither enjoy the walk or the countryside you are passing through, concentrating as you are on the maximum aerobic experience. There were a gaggle of older children on bikes who seemed to have an innate sense of mooching on wheels as nattering and prodding piles of dirt and bushes with sticks is still a popular past time. There were the MP3/I pod walkers whose eyes seemed slightly glazed and turned in as the country passed by to a soundtrack.
Just because I mooch does not imply being unobservant of course or that I have a desultory sensory experience of the countryside. I can be a very tiring vocal observer for any companion, whether I’m walking in an urban or rural environment, rather like a huge overexcited meerkat, ‘What’s that blue flower called, what sort of bird is that, look at that yellow thing, look at that weird drain cover, that shop sign is odd, why does that building have fancy brickwork that looks like two pencils?’ Of course on my own I merely think these sort of things as talking out loud may ensure the power walkers do break into a trot to get away from the mad lady. I once embarrassed friends on my first visit to America by becoming very over excited in a supermarket and insisting on by-passing a rank of expectant and eager check-out girls when I spotted a self-service check-out where you scanned your own purchases (before they were introduced over here). When I was eleven I tripped over a kerb and gashed my knee very badly when I was taken to London for the first time as a treat for passing my eleven plus. What was the cause of my fall? I was desperate to examine a parking meter, as I had never seen one before. These incidents serve to flesh out the meerkat image somewhat.
It would appear that I am drawing up a contradictory picture, mooching and a compulsive need to question and look at things that catch my eye. I looked up the definition of mooching, ’to wander aimlessly from the 14th century French muchier, to hide.’ Well I think I mooch so more things can actually reveal themselves, the old saying of making sure you sniff the flowers along the way springs to mind. My personal definition of mooching would be ‘to wander reflectively whilst maintaining a keen curiosity in the environment you find yourself in.’ Very John Clare (without the madness), very Lakes poets and Wordsworth (without having to involve daffodils and the sister business), very much part of observed poetic behaviour. I think if there was more mooching life could be a little less fraught for some people. If you are a zipper, however, sustained contact with a moocher could result in blown gaskets. Moochers and zippers rarely make good walking companions or life ones probably, although it may be a case of opposites attract and putting a bit of zip into a moocher and vice-versa could be an example of reciprocity and true compromise. I think I am too much of an entrenched moocher to be zipped successfully.
Before anyone tells me, the song ‘Minnie the Moocher’ (see lyrics below) by Cab Calloway was about a different kind of mooching entirely, mainly drug induced. Note coke-y is exactly what you think it is and we aren’t talking soft drink here and kicking the gong was an idiom for using opium. Calloway wrote a Hepster’s Dictionary to let people access the 1930’s jive talk. I just love reading old and new slang, some of it makes you fully understand what a versatile and organic thing language is.
So I guess now this fen queen better wiggly her jelly roll put her sky piece on put the twister to the slammer and trilly to the sound of mitt pounding.
If you have eight minutes to spare take a look at the original Betty Boop, Minnie the Moocher cartoon, a real classic with Calloway’s movements rotoscoped for the dancing of the ghost walrus.
Minnie The Moocher (Lyrics)
Folk's here's the story 'bout Minnie the Moocher
She was a red hot hoochie coocher
She was the roughest, toughest frail
But Minnie had a heart a big as a whale
She messed around with a bloke named Smokey
She loved him, though he was coke-y
He took her down to Chinatown
And he showed her how to kick that gong around
She had a dream about the King of Sweden
He gave her things that she was needin'
He built her a house of gold and steel
A diamond car with platinum wheels
He gave her his townhouse and racing horses
Each meal she ate was a dozen courses
Had a million dollars in nickels and dimes
And she sat around and counted 'em all a million times
(hidey-hi's, one mo' 'gain!)
Now Min and Smokey they started jaggin'
They got a free ride in a wagon
She gave him money to pay her bail
But he left her flat in the county jail
(ominous sounding hidey-hi's and ho's)
Now Min met Ole Deacon Lowdown
He preached to her that she ought to slow down
But Minnie wiggled her jelly roll
Deacon Lowdown yelled "Lord save my soul!"
They took her where they put the crazies
Now poor Min's kickin' up those daisies
You heard my story this is the song
She was just a good gal but they done her wrong
(yet more hidey-hi's)
Poor Min, poor Min, poor Min!