Pragmatism of falling, or 'the bricklayer's story'

Pragmatism of falling, or 'the bricklayer's story'

For the student of pragmatism, falling is the perfect activity to differentiate an optimist from a pessimist. The optimist steps off the edge of a tall building. As he falls past the 30th floor window, he is heard to yell – ‘Still OK’ and seen to be calling a bookmaker on his iPhone.

His chances of landing safely are recorded in Hitchhiker’s Guide, but it has happened. Does this justify optimism? Meanwhile the pessimist falling is heard to yell ‘It’s not my fault’- not exactly pragmatism.

Which is it to be? Of course, if you are British, neither optimism nor pessimism is acceptable –just pragmatism.

One of the greatest stories of pragmatism amid disaster is the ‘Bricklayer’s Story’ as retold by late great racconteur, Gerard Hoffnung some 56 years ago at the Oxford Union debate.

Dear Sir:

I am writing in response to your request for additional information in Block #3 of the accident reporting form. I put "Poor Planning" as the cause of my accident. You asked for a fuller explanation and I trust the following details will be sufficient.

I am a bricklayer by trade. On the day of the accident, I was working alone on the roof of a new six-story building. When I completed my work, I found I had some bricks left over which when weighed later were found to weigh 240 lbs. Rather than carry the bricks down by hand, I decided to lower them in a barrel by using a pulley which 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 down and untied the rope, holding it tightly to insure a slow descent of the 240 lbs of bricks. You will note on the accident reporting form that my weight is 135 lbs.

Due to my surprise at being jerked off the ground so suddenly, I lost my presence of mind and forgot to let go of the rope. Needless to say, I proceeded at a rapid rate up the side of the building.

In the vicinity of the third floor, I met the barrel which was now proceeding downward at an equally impressive speed. This explains the fractured skull, minor abrasions and the broken collarbone, as listed in Section 3, 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 which I mentioned in Paragraph 2 of this correspondence. Fortunately by this time I had regained my presence of mind and was able to hold 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 weighed approximately 50 lbs.

I was now heavier than the barrel. 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 tooth and 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 bricks and fortunately only three vertebrae were cracked.

I am sorry to report, however, as I lay there on the pile of bricks, in pain, unable to move and watching the empty barrel six stories above me, I again lost my composure and presence of mind and let go of the rope.

The barrel came down and hit me on the head causing me to lose consciousness. I awoke here in hospital.

I respectfully request sick leave

True pragmatism, where not only his upperlip was stiff.

Subscribe to Newsletter

Discover a territory through the emotions of the people that have lived it.