Narrow Boats to Tow
© Barry Goodman (2008)
A dark and dismal morning in the middle of October,
Another day of toil in the bitter cold and rain.
Sixty tons of coal in the narrow boats behind me
As I start along the towpath once again.
Fetched from out the stables before the dawn was breaking,
Harnessed, fed and watered with the stars still in the sky;
Starting on the working day before the world is waking
With thirty miles to travel by and by.
I could have pulled a haywain, I could have pulled a hearse,
I could have pulled a brewer’s dray to quench the people’s thirst,
I could have pulled an omnibus, I might have pulled a plough,
But I’m a boathorse and I’ve narrow boats to tow.
Across the hedges, fields are shining silver in the sunlight,
And horses work in teams to plough the furrows straight and true;
Steaming through the shadows of a chilly winter’s morning,
Working horses with a long day’s graft to do.
The milk-float makes its daily rounds like clockwork every morning,
The carter carries cargoes from the village to the town;
On every cart and carriage there’s a horse to do the pulling:
It’s the horse that makes this busy world go round.
And as I walk the towpath on a glowing April morning,
The brasses on my harness flashing brightly in the sun,
I think about those horses who by fortune’s fickle calling
Are taken far away to pull a gun.
They fought against Napoleon, then went to the Crimea,
Where men and horses fought and died for honour and for gain,
Many were the Percherons that suffered in the carnage,
And never saw the April sun again.
In summer it’s the children who are quick to walk beside me,
To guide me on a towpath that I know so very well.
Each lock and bridge and aqueduct, each tunnel, lift and stable
Is a chapter in the story I can tell.
And when the towrope slackens and I know the day is ending,
In stables warm and cosy I can rest and ease the pain;
The boatman knows to treat me well, for first thing in the morning
I will start along the towpath once again.
The ‘Poor Old Horse’ (or sometimes donkey or mule) of the canal towpaths had a life of heavy work. This song
is from the point of view of the horse, looking at his lot and considering his alternative work options, had he been
given the choice.
Graeme Meek, who wrote the song and kindly provided the words, music and additional information, was a
member of the song duo 'Life and Times' (
) and dance band 'Time of Your Life'.
Recorded on :