Friday, January 20, 2006

Literary brick: The Bricklayer's Lament

Bricklayer's Lament was told by Gerard Hoffnung at the Oxford Union, December 4th, 1958.

Here is a version:


(from his Oxford Union speech) and taken from

I've got this thing here that I must read to you. Now, this is a very tragic thing ... I shouldn't, really, read it out. A striking lesson in keeping the upper lip stiff is given in a recent number of the weekly bulletin of 'The Federation of Civil Engineering Contractors' that prints the following letter from a bricklayer in Golders Green to the firm for whom he works:

Respected Sir,

When I got to the top of the building, I found that the hurricane had knocked down some bricks off the
top. So I rigged up a beam, with a pulley, at the top of the building and hoisted up a couple of barrels of

When I had fixed the building, there was a lot of bricks left over. I hoisted the barrel back up again and secured the line at the bottom and then went up and filled the barrel with the extra bricks. Then, I went to the bottom and cast off the rope.

Unfortunately, the barrel of bricks was heavier than I was and before I knew what was happening, the barrel started down, jerking me off the ground. I decided to hang on!

Halfway up, I met the barrel coming down ... and received a severe blow on the shoulder. I then continued to the top, banging my head against the beam and getting my fingers jammed in the pulley!

When the barrel hit the ground, it burst its bottom ... allowing all the bricks to spill out. I was now heavier than the barrel and so started down again at high speed!

Halfway down ... I met the barrel coming up and received severe injury to my shins!

When I hit the ground ... I landed on the bricks, getting several painful cuts from the sharp edges! At this point ... I must have lost my presence of mind... because I let go of the line!

The barrel then came down... giving me a very heavy blow and putting me in hospital!

I respectfully request 'sick leave'.

Recordings can be be bought from the Official Gerrard Hoffnung website.


Sarah Cuthbertson said...

Wonderful! My Dad had a recording of Gerard Hoffnung monologues, including this one and another which you probably know, containing such gems as a woman writing to her doctor, "This is to inform you that I have just given birth to twins in the enclosed envelope." And a hotelier or boarding-house keeper advertising "a French widow in every room".

But I'm sure you'll agree, nobody could tell 'em like Hoffnung did, in those rich, fruity tones and so perfectly paced for maximum humour.

Alan Fisk said...

There is a very funny translation (admittedly in flagrant violation of copyright law) into Canadian French. I won't put it here because (1) only those who've lived in Quebec or New Brunswick would understand it, and (2) there are too many rude words, and it wouldn't be half as funny without them.