I suppose all of us at one time or another have turned in our darkest moments to something to help us out of our doldrums, our funk or whatever you may call it. Whether it be a song or a TV show or a book or a movie, these things we hold dear in our heads and hearts can make us feel better by simply reminding us that we are alive. Not merely alive, but ourselves.
For me, the little section of my brain that contains these items consists mainly of comedy. Comic songs, poems, monologues and standup routines, from such masters as Stephen Fry, Paul Merton, Ben Elton, Shelley Berman, Richard Jeni, Jeff Foxworthy, and even less well known exponents such as Simon Fanshawe, Kevin Day, Jeremy Hardy, Kit Hollerbach, Kip Adotta, Joe Bolster...
You may recall I told you all the story of when I was jailed for bouncing a check, for six days. When I was released, I was (for reasons that are too complicated and involved) homeless for about eight weeks, and had to live in a Salvation Army shelter, sleeping in a dorm with eight other guys. My days were a vacuum that had to be filled somehow, and I spent the majority of my time using free public computers and reading books in a library. I had no transport and so I walked everywhere, and if you know the city of Gainesville, Georgia, you will be aware that while there are sidewalks in the city centre, they tend to run out when you get to the Lakeshore Mall/Wal-Mart/ area, and you are mostly on the grass verge if you want to get to McD's or the Atlanta Bread Company. The shelter is over on Dorsey St, so it's a good long walk to most places.
During my long walks I utilised these little poems, songs and monologues to keep myself entertained. I used them also when driving anywhere and I still do recite them to myself when walking back from town at night. I'm sure if anyone hears me they think I'm a bit barmy.
Back in the 80s I knew a guy named Paul, who happened to leave behind a cassette, one side of which contained two Goon Shows, the other side a wonderful album by Northern comedian and folkie Mike Harding. I kept that tape and a decade later while living in Georgia I discovered it and put it in my car, listening to it while driving around. In fact, it was in my Toyota Corolla that the tape finally gave up the ghost, I had played it so much. But it didn't matter of course, because the LP was now in my brain. Anytime I wanted to hear it I could, because I knew it so well. The album was Mrs. 'Ardin's Kid, and the poem that I used to recite the most while walking around (and still do) was The Ballad Of Cowheel Lou. And I don't think it is too much of a stretch to say that it was that that maintained my sanity in troubled times. So I just want to say a big thank you to Mike Harding. Mike - you might just have saved my life, mate.
Reproduced below are the words to The Ballad Of Cowheel Lou. Sorry I couldn't find a convenient YouTube vid of it, but if you want to buy the CD it's available from Amazon or from mikeharding.co.uk.
THE BALLAD OF COWHEEL LOU
North Of Oldham South of Diggle, there lies a town called Mumps
Where the tripe mines stand just by the washhouse wall
And in that deserted town where the shacks are tumbling down
You can hear the scabby moggies lonesome call
Years ago this town was booming when the tripe rush days were on
And the miners they rolled in from far and near
In the 'Sweaty Clog' saloon they were supping night and noon
Sarsaparilla, liquorice juice and privet beer.
Now she was a good time dancing gal, any tripe miners pal
For a bottle of Brasso she'd love you all night through
She was rough and she was tough, she wore no vest and took black snuff
And was known to all the lads as Cowheel Lou.
Now Lou had one special man, his name was Dangerous Albert
He sucked Fiery Jack and camphorated oil
He wore barbed wire combinations and slept rough on Oldham station
And Wimpey used his dandruff for hardcore.
Now one stormy night in Mumps when the rain came down in lumps
And the wind blew empty tins off Saddleworth Moor
In the 'Sweaty Clog' saloon the pianola played a tune
And Lou was sewing mudflaps on her drawers.
While a gang of tripe prospectors and a couple of tram inspectors
Were gambling all their pay on snakes and ladders
While a pair of Huddersfield tramps were supping the oil from the lamps
And Albert was trying to kickstart the pianola.
Well, the doors busted open wide and a stranger come inside
It was Spotty Bum McGrew the lame evangelist
He was an hop-along bible thumper, he kept a white rat up his jumper
And in his hand he held a tambourine.
He said " I'm looking for a man as how they call him Dangerous Albert
I've heard as how he's known around this part."
Well the pianola stopped its tune and a hush came on the room
So quiet you could hear a cockroach fart.
Said the stranger, "Me and Al, we were buddies he was my pal
In the salvation army band we both did play
'Til one night we went on booze, he ripped up me shirt and widdled in my shoes
He blew his nose on me vest and smashed me tambourine!"
Then Albert caught his eye and the stranger gave a cry
And leapt upon the bar with a scream of rage
Then Albert gave a shout and whipped his weapon out
And in his hand he held a tambourine
Now tales have been told of what took place that night
The fiercest fight that Mumps has ever seen
How Spotty Bum McGrew and the lover of Cowheel Lou
Fought to the very death, each with their tambourine.
All night long they did do battle and their tambourines did rattle
Spotty Bum's teeth went flying in the grime
They knocked off Albert's hat and hit the landlords cat
And stopped to suck a lemon at half time.
Now the second half got dirty as they were both feeling a bit shirty
Spotty Bum hit Albert with his rubber leg
Cowheel Lou could stand no more, she picked up pianola from floor
Chucked it and killed them both stone dead.
Now north of Oldham south of Diggle, there's a broken hearted gal
Who tends the grave so cold and so bare
For at Clog Hill above the valley where the wind howls night and day
Spotty Bum and dangerous Albert are buried there.
So if you go 'cross Saddleworth Moor where the wind whips up from Diggle
And you think you hear thunder in the east
Its not thunder 'cross those hillocks it's the ghost of those two pillocks
Knocking buggery out of each other with their tambourines.