Coincidences happen. Look around — maybe you’ve listened to a song on one station, only to turn to another station and hear the same song again. Maybe a friend uses the word “Herculean,” and later that day, or the next, you read “Herculean” again in an article. Sometimes, coincidences happen in threes (like deaths of famous people). And the coincidence that happened to me last week was a strange, non-sensical phrase that I had never heard before, but there it was — twice in one week.
Let me preface this by mentioning that I used to watch a show called Penny Dreadful. I loved the combination of Victorian-era horror (buckets of fake blood were used) and literature — Frankenstein, Dracula and Dorian Grey, the dialogue and the atmosphere not deviating too far from original source. It was lovely in its heavy gothic atmosphere, writing and acting — and yes, I do think it ended its run way too soon. This was a few years ago that the show ended its run. Enter 2020, and a new version of the series is released: Penny Dreadful: City of Angels. This show takes place in 1938, in, you guess it, Los Angeles, and has several complex themes running through the story, themes of Mexican culture and religion as well as discrimination against them, the rise of the Fascism in the US, and let’s not forget murder — after all, the two main characters are police detectives (one Jewish guy and the other a Mexican-American). And yet, I have decided to give up watching this show after watching only the first three episodes. There were no gothic touches, not in the classic horror trope that I was longing for. But in one of those episodes, a line was spoken that both struck my curiosity and got stuck in my craw — “Slowly, slowly, catchee monkey.”
The reason I noticed this line, was because the day before I was watching another show that I enjoy — Killing Eve. On that show, an old mentor (the original mentor) of an assassin called Villanelle, spoke that same line, “Slowly, slowly catchee monkey.”
Naturally, I went to that great knower of all things, the Interwebs, to find the origin of that phrase. It said, “It comes from the days of British colonialism, when many far eastern countries were under British rule. Soldiers posted there used to try to catch monkeys to keep as pets and despite all their efforts were not very successful.” In another definition, I was told: “The expression is indeed frequently attributed to Baden-Powell, the founder of the Boy Scouts, largely because he uses it three times in his diary about his activities in what is now Ghana in 1895–6.” This saying is related to “Softly, softly catchee monkey” and it means the exact same thing. The expression means that it is without rushing, but with great patience, one can achieve great results.
Indeed, the expression sounds like something Rudyard Kipling might have come up with, being a great writer and a jolly old bigot. By the way, many great writers were also great bigots (one does not preclude the other — see both Charles Dickens and Georges Simenon).
Yet, over the last few days, I find myself saying this particular phrase under my breath in the strangest of times, as if to soothe myself. I find myself whispering, “Today I will not have any alcohol. After all, I am trying desperately not to gain any weight during the pandemic. Slowly, slowly catchee monkey…” And, “All right, I only walked for about 15 minutes instead of 30. At least I moved outside, and at least it was more than 10 minutes. Slowly, slowly catchee monkey…”
Since I find this particular expression at this particular time comforting, I will continue to use it — while waiting for some other show to, coincidentally, mention it again.