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La Lingua Bella - Humor: Encounter with a Barrel

About Humor: Encounter with a Barrel

Previous Entry Humor: Encounter with a Barrel Jan. 10th, 2006 @ 05:08 pm Next Entry
One of my favorite humor pieces is this increasingly tragic accident report. I have looked on the web for attribution, and the best I can surmise is that its original form is part of Gerard Hoffnung's 1959 speech to Oxford Union, entitled "Bricklayer's Lament". The original version isn't available to us here online, but I first heard it as this joke version, so I thought I'd share. The sentiment comes through loud and clear. You'll no doubt enjoy reading "Encounter with a Barrel":

Dear Sir,

I am writing in response to your request for additional information in block #3 of the accident reporting form. I put "trying to do the job alone" as the cause of my accident. You stated, in your letter, that I should explain more fully, and I trust the following details will be sufficient.

I am a bricklayer by trade. On the day of the accident I was working on the roof of a new six-story building. When I completed my work, I discovered that I had about 500 pounds of bricks left over. Rather than carry the bricks down by hand, I decided to lower them in a barrel by using a pulley, which fortunately, was attached to the side of the building, at the sixth floor.

Securing the rope at ground level, I went up to the roof, swung the barrel out and loaded the bricks into it. Then I went back to the ground and untied the rope, holding it tightly to insure a slow descent of the 500 pounds of bricks. You will note in Block #11 of the accident reporting form that my weight is 135 pounds.

Due to my surprise at being jerked off the ground so suddenly, I lost my presence of mind and didn't think to let go of the rope. Needless to say, I proceeded at a rather rapid rate up the side of the building.

In the vicinity of the third floor, I met the barrel that was now proceeding in a downward direction at an equally impressive rate of speed. This explains the fractured skull, minor abrasions and the broken collarbone, as listed in Section III of the accident reporting form.

Slowed only slightly, I continued my rapid ascent, not stopping until the fingers of my right hand were two knuckles deep into the pulley that I mentioned in paragraph #2 of this correspondence.

Fortunately, by this time, I had regained my presence of mind and was able to hold tightly to the rope, in spite of the excruciating pain I was now beginning to experience.

At approximately the same time, however, the barrel of bricks hit the ground and the bottom fell out of the barrel. Now devoid of the weight of the bricks the barrel now weighed approximately 50 pounds.

I refer you again to my weight in Block #11. As you might imagine, I began a rapid descent down the side of the building. In the vicinity of the third floor, I met the barrel coming up. This accounts for the two fractured
ankles, broken teeth, and the severe lacerations of my legs and lower body.

Here my luck began to change slightly. The encounter with the barrel seemed to slow me enough to lessen my injuries when I fell into the pile of broken bricks, and fortunately, only three vertebrae were cracked.

I am sorry to report, however, that as I lay there on the pile of bricks in pain, unable to move and looking up at the empty barrel, six stories above me, I once again lost my presence of mind and I let go of the rope.
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From:steelbrassnwood
Date:January 11th, 2006 02:57 pm (UTC)
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I know this story as a comic Irish song, usually called "Why Paddy's Not At Work Today" but also "Excuse Note" and "Load of Bricks." There's a FAQ question about it on a UK folk music site, and here are the lyrics:

WHY PADDY'S NOT AT WORK TODAY (Excuse Note)
(Pat Cooksey)

Dear Sir I write this note to inform you of my plight
And at the time of writing I am not a pretty sight
My body is all black and blue, my face a deathly gray
I write this note to tell why Paddy's not at work today

While working on the fourteenth floor, some bricks I had to clear
And to throw them down from off the top seemed quite a good idea
But the gaffer wasn't very pleased, he was an awful sod
He said I had to cart them down the ladder in me hod.

Well clearing all those bricks by hand, it seemed so very slow
So I hoisted up a barrel and secured the rope below
But in my haste to do the job, I was too blind to see
That a barrel full of building bricks is heavier than me.

So when I had untied the rope, the barrel fell like lead
And clinging tightly to the rope I started up instead
I took off like a rocket and to my dismay I found
That half way up I met the bloody barrel coming down.

Well the barrel broke my shoulder as on to the ground it sped
And when I reached the top I banged the pulley with me head
I held on tight, though numb with shock from this almighty blow
And the barrel spilled out half its load fourteen floors below

Now when those building bricks fell from the barrel to the floor
I then outweighed the barrel so I started down once more
I held on tightly to the rope as I flew to the ground
And I landed on those building bricks that were scattered all
around.

Now as I lay there on the deck I thought I'd passed the worst
But when the barrel reached the top, that's when the bottom burst
A shower of bricks came down on me, I knew I had no hope
In all of this confusion, I let go the bloody rope.

The barrel being heavier, it started down once more
And landed right on top of me as I lay on the floor
It broke three ribs and my left arm, and I can only say
That I hope you'll understand why Paddy's not at work today.
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From:lalinguabella
Date:January 11th, 2006 05:41 pm (UTC)
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excellent! thanks for the lead. I tried to find it yesterday, but nothing came up. Reading your FAQ link, I now know why. My original post has been altered, and now reflects reality! At least as far as we can believe what we read on the Internet ;)
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From:steelbrassnwood
Date:January 11th, 2006 08:06 pm (UTC)
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Ah, well, I can't vouch for the accuracy of what's in that FAQ (and in fact, the question about the old "horses don't sing" quote is wrong, according to my non-Internet research), but I've heard the song in the real world many times. Anyway, thanks for the fun post!
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