A moment of flippancy – Stewball

When I was young and a lot folkier than I am today, a song about an 18th century racehorse variously called ‘Stewball’, ‘Skewball’, ‘Skewbald’ and so on was very popular in folk clubs, especially in the form in which it was best known in the US. Even if you’re not in the least folky and haven’t ever heard that version, you probably know the tune as borrowed by John Lennon for his son ‘Happy Christmas (War is Over)’.

There is lots of information about the US and Irish versions as recorded by various people on the Mainly Norfolk page here.

Now comes the flippancy.

Coming across a rather nicely sung rendition of the US version by Stephen C. Mendel on Facebook, I was reminded that according to many versions of the song in both its US and Irish incarnations, the horse had two unusual characteristics:

  1. It talked to its rider and/or its owner
  2. It tended to drink alcohol rather than water

According to the US version often heard, “he never drank water / but always drank wine”, while the home-grown version popularized by Bert Lloyd tells us that after a big win “horse and rider both ordered sherry wine and brandy”.

So I suppose it was inevitable that while taking my daily exercise, I found myself singing (somewhat breathlessly):

Stewball was a racehorse
He isn’t much missed
He won lots of races
But only when p****d

Let me reassure you that I do not intend to divert my writing in general into the Billy Connolly school of songwriting, and hope not to expand this into a full-length song.

David Harley

Hack My Brain

New words by David Harley to ‘Cocaine Blues’. This article is also published on my song/music site David Harley’s Songs, though not yet with a recording.

An earlier version of this lyric insisted on being included in a security blog: IoT Hacking: Surviving an Online World. [Also referenced in this article: Music, Security, and a Nice Cup of Tea.]

However, the whole ‘why-do-I-put-up-with-this-alarmist-BS-anyway-when-I-could-retire-to-a desert-island-with-no-internet?’ thing keeps nagging at me. (The answer is because I’d rather live somewhere with reasonable access to a wine merchant.) There’s probably enough mileage in this for a whole (rather sour) opera, but life’s too short for that. I suspect I’ll probably record this version sooner rather than later, however.

I suspect that this rant may offend some prophets of doom, security marketroids, politically active acquaintances, other acquaintances about whom I May Not Speak, The Register, Mark Zuckerberg, and my pro-meme and pro-gun friends on Facebook. If so, I’ll try to live with it.

I won’t go to Heathrow, I ain’t insane
Blackhat hackers might hack my plane
Whoa-oa, Stuxnet all over again

I won’t fly or go by sea
Seaport hackers aiming gas at me
Whoa-oa, Sarin all over the world

Hey doc won’t you please come quick
Hacker in my pacemaker making me sick
Trojans all round my brain

Looked in my mailbox, it’s all the same
Politician wants to hack my brain
Whoa-oa, moneygrubbers in my brain

Went down to Washington and what do I see
CIA has tabs on me
GCHQ all round my brain

Headed for my keyboard on the lope
The man from the Register said ‘no more hope’
Whoa-oa, hackers all round my brain

Hey nurse won’t you please come quick
EEG says I’m really sick
Paranoia all round my brain

Some say the Facebook habit ain’t bad
It’s the leakiest backdoor I’ve ever had
Whoa-oa, Zuckerberg’s in my brain

Hey baby won’t you bring some beer
2nd amendment up to my ears
Cat memes overloading my brain

Ain’t going shopping, that ain’t my speed
Amazon will tell me just what I need
Whoa-oa, ads all around my brain

David Harley

What do I do (about you)?

What do I do (about you)? (words and music by David Harley, copyright 1984)

[Apologies to Harburg and Gorney for borrowing the tune for ‘Brother can you spare a dime‘ for one section. I guess if I ever do anything serious with this, I’ll have to rethink that particular leaning towards Lehrerism. But this is actually more a curiosity than a demo.]

Around the start of the 1980s I went through a somewhat theatrical phase: in fact, a couple of the best songs I wrote around then were for a revue called Nice If You Can Get It, directed by Maggie Ford: in particular, Hands of the Craftsman  and Long Stand . This one is a little more flippant: I don’t think this was intended for any project in particular, and I can’t actually remember playing it in public anywhere, but I found this version on a cassette recently and quite liked it. Just vocal and electric guitar.

While I might harbour a secret desire to be the sort of Renaissance Man presented here, the ‘hero’ definitely isn’t me. I’m a slow writer – slower as I get older, and I’ve never written an opera – though I once started to put together a concept album back in the days when that wasn’t considered absurdly pretentious. I don’t play the Minute Waltz – least of all on the piano – though these days the wonders of the internet will probably turn up a version on YouTube of someone who does play it in 35 seconds flat, probably on ukulele. So you can spend 35 seconds listening to it and 5 minutes wondering why anyone would do that. I don’t fly gliders or water-ski – these days I do my best to avoid flying even as a passenger – I usually leave cooking to my wife, who is an excellent cook and also very adept with the cocktail shaker. And I don’t drive. I was once a wood-machinist – which is why my right thumb is much shorter than the left and I almost invariably play with a thumb pick – but certainly not a cabinet-maker, and am certainly a mediocre artist at best. I just write and play a few things. And take the occasional photo. Which all sounds so dull that I can’t imagine why you’d bother to have read this far.

Here’s the lyric:

I can start a song at 2.45
And finish it by 5 to…
I can write an opera in an hour and a half
But what do I do about you?

I can play the Minute Waltz
In 35 seconds flat
But I can’t seem to get you out of my head
So what do I do about that?

Sometimes I fly gliders or water-ski
Before making breakfast for two
From my own recipes (of course you’ve read my books?)
But what do I do about you?

I can make cocktails like you’ve never seen
Ask anyone – I can do
Things with an olive you’d never believe
– But what do I do about you?

I can build a cocktail with a sting like an asp
Pernod, tequila and lime
Crushed ice and soda – now it’s almost done
Buddy where’s the grenadine

I can build furniture, drive racing cars
I’ve painted a mural or two
But I can’t seem to get you to remember my name
So what do I do about you?
What do I do about you?

David Harley

A Torrent of Abuse

“The problem’s in your intranet”, he said to me
“And breaking in is easy if you read the RFC
I’d like to help your data in its yearning to be free
There must be 50 ways to hack your password”

He said “it’s really not my habit to intrude,
But keeping passwords to yourself is really rather rude
And all your data is belong to us, ‘cause, dude,
There must be 50 ways to hack your password.”

Just slip out the hack, Jack
Send off a phish, Trish
Guess at a PIN, Jim
Just take it from me.
Hook into the bus, Gus
You don’t need to fuss much
Just parse the key, Lee
And let yourself in.

He said, “it makes me laugh to see you so confused
And the obviousness of passwords that you have re-used
Facebook, LinkedIn, eBay, there’s nowhere I’ve been refused,
There must be 50 sites with that same password.”

He said “I’ve just posted all your passwords to the net,
In protest at the outing of some kidz you never met
And it’s your fault if you find your bank account has nothing left
‘Cause there were lots of ways to hack your password.

Make it too short, Mort
Name it after your pet, Chet
Use your address, Tess,
Or your account name.
Just use “password”, Bert
You can even use QWERT(YUIOP), Gert
Don’t use the shift key, Dee
Make it easy for me.

Convoy II

Or, just when you thought it was safe to order another pint of gold top…

Even if you remember the 1970s song by W.C. McCall [actually, that’s C.W. McCall: possibly a Freudian slip there…] or the Sam Peckinpah movie, you may not be aware of the projected follow-up movie, where the action was to be moved to a milk round in West London. If you don’t remember the song, the movie or milk floats, this won’t mean a lot to you.

It was half-past five: I was half alive
And wishing I was back in bed
I’d got 600 up of Silver Top
And a ton and a half of Red.
We were nose-to-tail down Hewer Street
Clear down to Ladbroke Grove,
When Tel came down and checked us off:
He said ‘Let those Gold Tops roll…’

By the time I hit the Westway lights
My wheels began to drag:
By Shepherds Bush I knew the score
So I dropped for tea and a fag.
Halfway round Sulgrave
I had to hit that horn:
I said ‘Big D, this is Catwurzle:
Me flaming float’s broke down…’

He said ‘Hold it son, I’m having tea:
Call the engineers…’
So I did, and they assured me
They’d be out before next year.
I’d pushed her halfway round Brook Green
When I heard a klaxon blow:
It was Charlie in a Morrison,
With another float in tow.

Well, mercy’s sake, good buddy,
Looks like we got us a convoy…

We hit the Broadway well past 12
And swung off down King’s Mall;
Doubled up Ashcroft three floors each
In 15 minutes flat.
By the time we left Riverside
We’d four more floats in hand
Plus three from Express, four from U.D.
And Ted in a Commer van.

“Catwurzle, there’s a 266 bus trying to cut across to Butterwick, come on back.”
“Tell him to get in line, we need all the help we can get…”

We hit Wood Lane three abreast
And those Bears began to snarl,
But they let us through since we had along
Three ambulances from St. Charles.
We crawled up Barlby 90 strong,
And still we picked up more:
two bread vans, three taxis,
12 Hell’s Angels and a van from the GPO.
Tel passed us by St. Marks and screamed
‘You’ll all be on the dole!’
But we carved him up and headed home:
I said ‘let those yoghurts roll – ten four…’

Make Mine A Snowball

What would Christmas be without The Snowman?


For years this was just a single verse stranded in the first draft of a novel I’ll probably never finish now, and then a few years ago it demanded to be finished. Its first public appearance was after the funeral of my friend Graham Bell. That might seem less strange if I tell you that the funeral finished with the Ying Tong Song. Graham was always urging me to play more jazz, but I think he would have approved of this anyway. Apologies to both Howard Blake and Raymond Briggs, who might not approve.

I did once sing it at one of Vic Cracknell’s open mike evenings in tandem with a vaguely jazzy instrumental version of White Christmas which probably proved conclusively that I was not born to compete with Wes Montgomery or Barney Kessel.

Recorded on primitive handheld equipment: perhaps one day I’ll take another run at it in my updated home studio and do a little OTT overdubbing. I’m thinking celeste, harpsichord and orchestra. (I have access to a Yamaha keyboard and I’m not afraid to use it.) Not that this is ever going to be translated to a commercial recording. 🙂 

I’m snoring in my chair
I’ve really had too much to eat
And even if I tried
I couldn’t leave my seat.

I’m getting very tight:
I didn’t need those lasht two beersh
And now that last mince pie
Has dribbled down my brand new tie.

Somebody offered me another cup of tea
Turkey sandwich, more plum pudding, woe is me…

I’m sprawling on the stairs
I haven’t got the strength to rise
And dear old Auntie Jill
Is in the bathroom still.

I’ve turned off the TV
The Queen’s speech was keeping one awake
And one more Singing Nun
Is more than I can take

Uncle Dick is feeling sick, he’s running for the loo
Heaving like a mighty monster from the zoo

I’m surfing in my lair
Googling for some online deals
To spend next Christmas Day
On a cruise ship far away…