Per Gallon, Per Second, Per Squirt

Per Gallon, Per Second, Per Squirt

I originally chose another poem for this week, but “The ‘Ole in the Ark” by Marriott Edgar seems a lot more appropriate as Storm Babet continues to flood the country.

By gum! how the wet squirted in through that hole,
While young Shem, who at sums was expert,
Worked it out on his slate as it came at the rate,
Of per gallon, per second, per squirt.

Marriott Edgar (1880—1951)

Poem 284. The ‘Ole in the Ark

One evening at dusk as Noah stood on his Ark,
Putting green oil in starboard side lamp,
His wife came along and said, “Noah, summat’s wrong,
Our cabin is getting quite damp.”

Noah said, “Is that so?” Then he went down below,
And found it were right what she’d said,
For there on the floor quite a puddle he saw,
It was slopping around under t’bed.

Said he, “There’s an ‘ole in the bottom somewhere,
We must find it before we retire.”
Then he thowt for a bit, and he said “Aye, that’s it,
A bloodhound is what we require.”

So he went and fetched bloodhound from place where it lay,
‘Tween the skunk and the polecat it were,
And as things down below were a trifle so-so,
It were glad of a breath of fresh air.

They followed the ‘ound as it went sniffing round,
‘Til at last they located the leak,
‘Twere a small hole in the side, about two inches wide,
Where a swordfish had poked in its beak.

By gum! how the wet squirted in through that hole,
While young Shem, who at sums was expert,
Worked it out on his slate as it came at the rate,
Of per gallon, per second, per squirt.

The bloodhound tried hard to keep water in check,
By lapping it up with his tongue,
But as that were no go, he went up to the hole,
And shoved in his nose for a bung.

But the poor faithful hound, he were very near drowned,
And they dragged him away none too soon,
For the fountain as rose, worked its way up his nose,
And blew him out like a balloon.

And then Mrs Noah shoved her elbow in t’hole,
And said, “Eee! It’s stopped I believe,”
But they found very soon as she altered her tune,
Cos the water had gone up her sleeve.

Then finding her elbow weren’t doing much good,
She said to Noah, “I’ve an idea,
You sit on the leak and by t’end of the week,
There’s no knowing, weather may clear.”

Noah didn’t think much to this notion, at all,
But reckoned ‘e’d give it a try,
On the ‘ole down he flopped, and the leaking all stopped,
And all… except him, were quite dry.

They took him his breakfast and dinner and tea,
As day after day there he sat,
‘Til the storm had all passed and they landed at last,
On the top side of Mount Ararat.

And that’s how old Noah got them all safe ashore,
But ever since then, strange to tell,
Them as helped save the Ark have all carried a mark,
Aye, and all their descendants as well.

That’s why a dog has a cold nose, and a lady cold elbows,
You’ll also find if you enquire,
That’s why a man takes his coat tails in hand,
And stands with his back to the fire.

This comic monologue, often delivered by Stanley Holloway, paints an amusing picture of a slight problem encountered by the occupants of Noah’s Ark and how it was solved after a couple of abortive attempts.

We meet Noah one evening as he’s “Putting green oil in starboard side lamp”. A pool of water is discovered in the captain’s cabin and he uses a bloodhound (which is mightily relieved at being freed from its place near the skunk) to locate the source of the problem which eventually turns out to be a hole caused by an inquisitive swordfish. The water is pouring in and “young Shem, who at sums was expert” calculates that it’s coming in at a rate of gallons per second.

Something has to be done and the bloodhound is first with the attempt, initially trying to lick up the water and then, realising that this is ineffective, plugs the hole with his nose as a bung. This he instantly discovers to be folly when the water squirts up his hose and blows him up “like a balloon.”

Mrs Noah’s attempt is also unsuccessful as she thrusts her elbow into the gap and quickly desists when the water goes up her sleeve. Struck by a bright idea, she tells Noah (who we can imagine is a portly gentleman) to “sit on the leak and by t’end of the week/There’s no knowing, the weather may clear.”

Noah isn’t much impressed by this idea but gives it a go anyway and “the leaking all stopped/And all… except him, was quite dry” He sits there for days on end, having his meals brought to him until the Ark lands “On top side of Mount Ararat” and he’s “got them all safe ashore”.

It’s here that we get the punchline of the song—it explains that “Them as helped save the Ark has all carried a mark/Aye, and all their descendants as well”, so that explains the dog’s proverbial cold nose, the cold elbows suffered by many ladies, and “You’ll also find, if you enquire/That’s why a man takes his coat tails in hand/And stands with his back to the fire.”

I love this for its entertaining images. The idea that Noah is putting green oil in the starboard lamp always makes me smile: the starboard lamp on a ship is green and the port side red to allow other vessels to determine the ship’s heading at night. Obviously the same oil is used in both—there’s no such thing as green oil, though experienced sailors might get some amusement from telling a greenhorn to go and ask for some at the ship’s chandlers. The poor bloodhound, tethered between the skunk and the polecat, is evidently not having the best of times and I always imagine the look of relief as it gets up onto the deck and starts sniffing in a more salubrious atmosphere. The comic images of the poor dog being “blown out like a balloon” and Mrs Noah getting a jet of water in the armpit remind me of cartoon characters too.


  • Read about Stanley Holloway at Wikipedia.
  • Listen to Stanley Holloway’s performance on YouTube.