In 1958, Gerard Höffnung gave his classic address to the Oxford Union which included his reading of a letter that began “Respected Sir.” Whether or not Mr. Höffnung was the originator of this tragic tale of the unfortunate mason will probably never be known (GH claims he first read the letter in the Manchester Guardian) because the brilliant cartoonist, writer and musician died at the age of 34 one year later.
I urge any reader who has enjoyed my humble rendition of this “classic” tale to try and listen to the original Oxford address. It surely is the ultimate masterpiece in 'Timing'.
It is available both on CD and cassette tape from either the BBC or GH's official website. Just "Google" his name and have your credit card ready. The title of the track is, “Respected Sir.”
From his hospital bed By drip feed fed. A mason composed this letter. Saying, “I feel like hell, “But hope you are well, “Ill be back at work once I’m better.
“When I got to the site “Things seemed all right,” The neatly writ letter began. “The chimney was broke, "And belching black smoke, “So I took all my tools out the van.
“Then hoisting my tackle “And using a shackle, “I fastened a pulley to some wood. “’cause by using a rope, “It was my hope “To be finished by three . . . if I could.
“It took all my strength, “To pull the rope’s length “And hoist barrels of bricks to the top. “I must’ve lifted a score . . . “ . . . ‘praps even more “But around about I did stop.
“So with the barrel up high, “The rope’s end I did tie “To a stake I had banged in the ground. “Thus bricks that were spare “I could lower with care, “Without having to climb up and down.
“Next, clambering aloft, “My vest I did doff “And repairing the chimney began, “Warm in the sun, “It was really quite fun “Plus a neat way of getting a tan.
“When I had finished, “Though the pile had diminished, “Some spare bricks still littered the place. “So I blew off the soot, “In the barely them put “And wiped all the sweat off my face.
“Having cleared up the mess “I re-donned my vest “And descending the ladder did start. “For once the barrel was down, “Safe back on the ground, “Then for home I could shortly depart.
“With the barrel so filled, “Some bricks nearly spilled, “So I untied the rope’s end with care. “. . . . But the barrel you see, “Being heavier than me “Jerked me right up in the air.
“To ‘hang on’ I thought best, “So hugged the rope to my chest “As t’wards the chimney I flew. “But as skywards I went “The barrel made its descent . . . “ . . . And the closer together we grew.
“Though I struggled valiantly, “I still banged my knee “When we reached our halfway points. “Then upwards did scream, “Where my head hit the beam, “And the pulley my finger joints.
“The barrel struck the ground “With a clattering sound, “And all of the bricks they fell out. “. . . Now lighter than me, “Newton’s gravity, “Did turn our positions about.
“With the barrel upended, “I quickly descended, “And mid-way we met yet again, “Where it scraped all the skin, “From off my right shin, “And I screamed out in anguish and pain.
“Still downwards I fell, “And boy did I yell “When on top of those bricks I did land. "I got quite badly bruised “Was totally confused, “Which I’m certain that you understand.
“But . . . I have no excuse “That’s of any use “For what happened next that day. “’cause like some half-witted dope “I let go the damned rope! “. . . There is nothing more I can say.
“From thirty feet high, “Way up in the sky “With nothing now to restrain it. “The barrel zoomed down “With a ‘whooshing’ sound, “And the speed of a rifle bullet.
“Well, it gave me a clout, "That laid me right out “My carelessness I now grieve. “So if it’s alright with you, “For the next day or two “I’ll be home . . . in my bed on sick leave.”
That was fantastic,
But tell me Sir,why on earth the Oxford Union would they know what a bricklayer actually does, lets face it,the nearest they are ever likely to get to one is the "Bricklayer Arms"