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Hammersmith horse off, horror

A strange beast with an evil stare has not been sighted roaming the streets of West London. Not for some months, anyway - because Hammersmith Morris Men have lost it.

The legendary Smiffs have been without their hobby horse since dancer Ian Campbell left it outside a pub at the Hastings Jack In The Green festival in May, 1999.

"It's completely my fault," he said, with a broad grin. "I put it down and forgot about it. Maybe someone pinched it - I don't know."

When team members went home at the end of the weekend, none of them checked the beast was with them.

Although it's been a popular talking point, the only dancer to have shown any concern about its disappearance is Duncan Ritchie, who jealously guarded the pleasure of performing underneath its black skirt.

"It means I can't get out of dancing in the Hastings procession now, so I'm not pleased," he said.

It's not the first time the side has come away from Hastings without the animal. On a previous occasion, it dramatically reappeared at a Hammersmith ale, some months after going missing.

Mad Jacks Morris came up from Hastings and put on a play featuring The Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse - and the Smiffs' beast was one of the horses.

Side members assumed pranksters were behind the latest absence. "We've just assumed that someone's got it and it'll turn up one day," said Ian Dedic.

They were hoping it would reappear in time for their Christmas mummers play. "Apart from that, we're not really bothered," said Ian.

The Smiffs are at a loss to understand why anyone would want to steal the creature, even temporarily. "It's quite unpleasant-looking," said side veteran Gordon Potts.

"Imagine a brick with a mouth that opens. It has bottle tops for eyes, the head is square and it's all black.

"When Mad Jacks brought it back to us they made a very entertaining announcement, alleging all sorts of misdemeanours it's supposed to have committed. It's horrible, really."

It's not the first horse to have been mislaid by the side, said Gordon. "We used to have one that was all black, and known as the black alligator. It didn't look like an alligator, but it didn't look like a horse either."

It was constructed by side member Charles Tully. "It took Charles all of, oh, three hours to make it," said Gordon. "He made a female version as well, with long eyelashes, but I don't know what happened to it."

The alligator has been missing for some years.

"The Earls Of Essex might have stolen it," said Gordon. "That used to happen. If they didn't, we might as well accuse them anyway.

"Almost certainly The Earls Of Essex stole it. Unless they didn't."

1999 Simon Pipe, Mark Rogers, The Outside Capering Crew

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