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

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…’