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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

78. "These are a few of my favorite things... 1. SMUTTY THINGS

Among my favorite things is witty smut – or, if you prefer it, smutty wit. There’s something about the very word itself - smut – that I like. Smut, the computer dictionary informs us, refers to ‘dirt’, and goes on, in poetic vein, to say:
‘Lewdness and rudeness, immorality ...’

Smut is generally seen as ‘schoolboy’ humour, involving an immature preoccupation with farting, naughty parts of the body and vulgarities of various kinds. It has much in common with sleaze – which is also defined in terms of ‘baseness, sordid details and unpleasantness’. Smut is not everybody’s cup of tea. It often meets with ‘tut-tutting’ and with a pursing of lips. But to me there is a certain healthy earthiness about smut.

And in these days of rampant political correctness, smut is especially on the nose. Sometimes I feel great nostalgia for those days of simple pleasure, when the mildest of expletives were greeted with a drawing of breath. Back in my Methodism-dominated teenage years, during the early- mid 1950s, we used to sing a song about three wise men:

They all went down to Jericho, They all went down to Jericho
Jeri – Jeri – cho –cho – cho, Jeri – Jeri – cho –cho – cho
They all went down to Jericho

They should have gone to Amster-Shh, They should have gone to Amster-Shh,
Amster – Amster – Naughty word, Amster – Amster – Naughty word,
They should have gone to Amster- DAM!

I recall the frisson of pleasure that accompanied the singing, nay shouting of that final word. Oh we were such radicals in those days! Forget about four letter words – you know the ones I mean. Words like bum, dam and bloody were swear words. The moment in Pygmalion when Eliza is at the races and screams at a horse to ‘Move yer bloody arse!’ was considered a serious breaking of barriers, a radical breach of decorous behaviour – and even when the film My Fair Lady was shown in the late 1950s it created a stir.

For those were the days when there was no sport on Sundays, when pubs were required by law to cease serving alcohol at 6 o’clock, when it was unacceptable to use ‘bad language’ or to tell ‘off jokes’ in the presence of women, and when the Deputy Premier of Victoria judged the suitability of books for public consumption in terms of whether he would want his teenage daughter to read such material!

As the ‘My Fair Lady’ incident suggests, by the late 50s things were starting to move – but very slowly. We considered ourselves to be pretty radical when we recited the poem The Bloody Orkneys:
This bloody town’s a bloody cuss
No bloody beer, no bloody bus,
And no one cares for bloody us
In the bloody Orkneys.

In the early 1960s the TV presenter Graham Kennedy was banned from television for a period of three months because he impersonated a crow’s call on national television.
‘I heard a crow calling as I came here tonight ...’ said Graham.
‘How did it sound?’ asked his straight man.
‘It went: Farrrrrrrrrrrrkkkkkkkkk!’

And then, of course, there were limericks. Smut and the limerick are willing bedfellows. As some sharp witted observer once sharp wittedly observed: ‘There are two types of limericks: the ones that are smutty, and the ones that are not. And the ones that are not smutty are also not funny.’

This is not actually true. There are some very funny limericks that were also quite free of vulgar allusion. I recall sitting with my then wife in a tent in the camping grounds of Buchan Caves in East Gippsland. We were on our honeymoon, and it had been raining all night. It was wet and cold and miserable. We were listening to 3LO - the ABC morning program – hosted by Peter Evans at that time. Evans was a very funny man, and often shared jokes and ditties and limericks with his audience. The limerick that day remains in my memory today, almost 45 years later:

The Lord of Thunder went out one day
To ride on his favourite filly,
“I’m Thor,” he cried
And the horse replied
“You’ve forgotten you thaddle, thilly."

Not all limericks were fit for the ears of older Methodist ladies, however. For years my favourite smutty limerick concerned a certain plumber:

There was a young plumber from Bree
Who was plumbing a made by the sea
Said the maid, ‘Cease your plumbing.
I think someone’s coming.’
Said the plumber, still plumbing, ‘It’s me.’

As a child, of course, I was expected to be seen and not heard; that was the way of it in those long gone days. We were expected to be respectful and respectable. When I was around 11 I used a forbidden word and suffered the consequences. We had two men who boarded with us through most of my childhood and adolescence: Mr Pearson, whom I liked, and Mr Pitfield, who was stand-offish and whom I didn’t much like. They shared a tiny bungalow at the back of our house. On one memorable occasion when I was feeling put-down by Mr Pitfield, I expressed my displeasure. Not to his face, of course; just to my parents:
‘He’s a POOFTER!’ I exclaimed.
Now, I had no idea what the word meant – or rather, I had no idea of it’s homosexual connotation; I thought it was a word you used to describe somebody you really didn’t like. My mother washed my mouth out with soap and water; and it was Velvet soap, at that – the soap she used for the clothes washing.

There was much about the adult world I didn’t really understand. We used to go to parties in the home of a friend of my parents; I think their name was Miller, and they lived in the newly settled suburb of West Preston. At some point the adults would start singing. Their favourite was a popular song of the time:

Oh dear – what can the matter be?
Dear, dear, what can the matter be?
Oh dear – what can the matter be? Johnny’s so long at the fair.

He promised he'd bring me a bunch of blue ribbons.

He promised he'd bring me a bunch of blue ribbons.
He promised he'd bring me a bunch of blue ribbons.
To tie up my bonny brown hair.

Which seemed a harmless enough song. They would then move on to a parody. We children were allowed to stay for the chorus only, and then we would be told to leave, to ‘go outside and play’. Which, of course we did. The chorus went:

Oh, dear, what can the matter be,
Seven old ladies were locked in the lava'try,
They were there from Monday till Saturday,
And nobody knew they were there.

I was in my 40s when I finally discovered why we were excluded. It turns out that this was a bawdy ballad. I discovered some 20 or more verses in a collection of bawdy ballads. A couple of the less vulgar went …

The first old lady was 'Lizabeth Porter,
She was the deacon of Dorchester's daughter,
Went there to relieve a slight pressure of water,
And nobody knew she was there.

The third old maid was old Ms. Humpfrey,

She sat so long she could not get her bum free,
She said 'I don't care for I am quite comfy',
And nobody knew she was there.

Needless to say, some verses were very vulgar indeed. A simple google search these days will turn up hundreds of verses.
In my late 30s I came across a collection of Australian smut entitled ‘Snatches and Lays’, which drew together some of the legendary items of smut: The Good Ship Venus, Eskimo Nell, The Woodpecker Song ...

None compare, however, with the earthy humour of Chaucer – in particular The Miller’s Tale. For those who don’t know The Miller’s Tale, it is a farce concerning sex and deceit and farting. The narrator’s introduction to The Miller’s Tale provides the best apologia for smut and bawdiness. He warns us:

And of this Miller, what more can I say
He would not spare his words for any man
He told his churl’s tale in his churlish way
And I regret I must repeat it here
And therefore if you do not wish to hear it
Turn o’er the leaf and choose another tale
And do not blame me if you choose amiss
The Miller was a churl – I’ve told you this
And I would ask – on me don’t place the blame
For after all these tales are but a game

I make no excuse. I like earthy humour, and if – dear reader – you fear that what follows might cause you distress, read no further. Like the narrator of the Canterbury Tales, I have warned you. Read on at your own peril.

I would like to share TWO poems that I count among my favourite things. I discovered the first only recently. It is by the Australian novelist and poet Peter Goldsworthy. This poem comes from his book, New Selected Poems, published by Duffy & Snellgrove, 2001.

What Little Boys are made of

In the beginning,
God finished

Wiped His Hands
On a damp cloud,
And breathed Life into Man

Man didn’t breathe back
Worried, God checked
the Instructions,
found he’d left the tail
inside the box

Hastily, recklessly
God glued it
On the wrong side

Man was born
His tail wagged
at the sight of Eve
and God was already forgotten.

My final poem, Jabberwocky Revisited, is by Ralph Tyler, and appears in a fine collection called The Ecstatic Moment , edited by Marianna Beck and Jack Hafferkamp and published by bantam, 1997.

Jabberwocky Revisited

Twas brillig in that cheap hotel
The looking glass had cataracts
All mimsy were the bureau drawers
The paper was a glimpse of Hell
“Come to my arms, my beamish boy,”
Her scarlett mouth invited him
He felt it to his slithy toves
Now hidden by his jocket shorts
She fell upon the lumpy sheets
And took his vorpal sword in hand
He chortled in his joy.
He found her frumious bandersnatch
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!
They gyred and gambled in the wave
Of sweat-stained sheets and coverlets
And burbled as they came.

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