It’s been a while since we paid a visit to the groovelab, high in the Swiss Alps, where tireless boffins attempt to isolate the essential core of Hooting Yard’s grooviness. But we may have to pack our pippy bags and hike over there again, for it appears that objections have been raised to the very practice of grooving itself. Our dulcet-voiced South African correspondent Letta Mbulu has found herself leaping to the defence of all things groovy by asking, in the form of song, the cogent question What is wrong with grooving? Actually, Ms Mbulu asks what is wrong with groovin’, but I fear we ought not encourage her use of apocopation, otherwise we start getting into Hootin’ Yard territory, at which point civilisation begins to crumble.
I pause here briefly to note that Ms Mbulu’s name is an anagram of Umlaut Belt (or Bëlt), which is, as we know, the name given to a far, far distant string of glittering stars and planets somewhere in this or another galaxy, dubbed as such by a fearsome Teutonic astronomer great of beard and brain alike. His own name, alas, I cannot quite recall. It is not even on the tip of my tongue. It is as if it has been utterly expunged from my memory, possibly by a bash on the bonce received when negotiating an Alp in Germany, on my way to Switzerland, there to visit the groovelab boffins.
I had my pippy bag and my hiking apparel, and I had a handful of feed for any goats that might cross my path as I wended my way. The sky was blue, and I thought of Ruskin. Well, in truth I thought of both Ruskin and Letta Mbulu. I wondered, as I often have, if Ruskin would have got down with the Hooting Yard groove, had he been born in a different era. We tend not to associate Ruskin with grooviness of any kidney, but that is a mistake, I think. It has not escaped my notice that his very name suggests a Mbuluesque apocopation. What is wrong with Ruskin’?, indeed.
Had I had my portable metal tapping machine upon my person upon that Alp, I may well have pranged a message to Ms Mbulu, insisting that she make a new recording of her song substituting Ruskin’ for groovin’. Not that this would have gone down too well with the boffins in the groovelab, who I know consider Ms Mbulu their staunch champion and her song their anthem. When your working day consists of exhausting hours of experimental groovy research, it must be a terrific dampener to learn that some are calling into question the practice of grooviness itself, its tenets and ethics and its jib-cut. I was keen to speak with the boffins, to see how they were bearing up, to spread some pep. Though I am often of lugubrious mien, I am not averse to dispersing pep where and when I can, particularly among boffins confined to their fastness in the Swiss Alps. I had gifts for them, too. Stuffed into my pippy bag were samizdat copies of some of the more inspiring letters from Ruskin’s Fors Clavigera.
So there I was, toiling up an Alpine slope, on the lookout for goats, thinking about Ruskin and Letta Mbulu, and nary a thought in my head regarding the beardy brainy Teutonic astronomer who had named the Umlaut Bëlt. Perhaps had it been night rather than day, had the broad sweep of the heavenly firmament glittered in darkness above me, rather than the bronze and battering sun, I might have thought about stars and planets and astronomers old and new, Teutonic and otherwise, and that name I cannot now remember would have come to me. Around it, I could have framed a piece of anecdotage to beguile the boffins over lunchtime sandwiches in their canteen chalet. I would draw together their singing heroine Letta Mbulu with the stars in a distant galaxy, somehow work in Mr Ruskin, and then, la!, flip from my pippy bag the copies of Fors Clavigera to boost their pep. Alas, it was not to be.
As I have indicated, I was well prepared should I meet with any goats who crossed my path. I had handfuls of goat feed, chiefly nettles and genetically modified sultanas and bran flakes, with which to assuage them. What had not occurred to me was that, being Alpine goats, they would be clumping about above the path, and, in a frisky moment, dislodge a rock or two, which, rolling unstoppably down the slope, would land upon my bonce, and knock me out.
It was night when I came to. Above me, the mighty firmament, the stars in their courses glittering against a cloudless black expanse. Out there, somewhere, possibly visible if I had a powerful telescope, was the Umlaut Bëlt. What was it Dobson had written? Of all the belts in all the galaxies, the Umlaut Bëlt can lay claim to being the grooviest belt imaginable. I wondered if the boffins in the groovelab knew that. Try as I might, I could not remember the name of that long dead Teutonic astronomer. I got to my feet. Strewn on the path, I saw the untouched goat feed. Alongside it, my open pippy bag, and the few remaining shreds of my copies of Ruskin’s Fors Clavigera, chewed up and munched by the Alpine goats which, like the rocks that had bedizened me, had descended from the slopes. The goats were gone now, and my boffin-gift was gone too. I could hardly present them with the sorry tatters which, in any case, a mountain wind would soon disperse into the night. To arrive at the groovelab without a gift to pep the boffins would be unforgivably ungroovy. Sadly, I turned around, and began the long hike back to my homeland. I was in no mood for grooving. Perhaps I never would be, ever again.