Legless Paddy at R. Sewells the builder

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
This is a true story of an incident on a building site about 30 years ago.

Submitted: April 11, 2009

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Submitted: April 11, 2009



Legless Paddy at R. Sewells the Builder.

Paddy, or John, to give him his real name was a labourer I met whilst working a few weeks for a Hull building firm called R. Sewells. (I promise you this story is true, each and every word, I would not lie, you can look them up in the Hull phone book if you wish).

I normally looked for sub-contract work on price on the larger building sites, but on this occasion, I had only 'thrown' up in Hull on a visit to my family, and needed a few weeks temporary work, and this job in a disused werehouse in the old town, which was being converted into an indoor market seemed like it would fit the bill.

They needed a bricky to build a lift shaft and other sundry works and I was up for a few weeks work, all very satisfactory, But the money wasn't all that, it being day work, but beggars can't be choosers as they say.

The lift shaft area was hidden well inside this cavernous building, past several existing wide door openings all built from Staffordshire blue bull-nose bricks, (they just don't build things like they used to) and it didn't seem like there would be any problem getting the bricks and mortar in place. However things didn't work out quite like I thought.

John was assigned to feed me with mortar and bricks, to lead material to me as the trade say, and initially things went along nicely, with me in the large concrete pit below ground level, where I first set out the internal dimensions of the lift shaft and proceed to build.

This would be all built in 9" class B , English bond engineering brick. A good but unforgiving brick, totally impervious to water and finished 'fair faced' internally in struck pointing.

As the morning progressed and the walls rose around me I noticed that the brick piles at the edge of the pit, from where I was taking my supplies were running ever more low, and John was running in and out with wheelbarrows of bricks and mortar, generally looking under pressure.

John had had a tough life, and had, he assured me also the misfortune to break one of his legs a year of two previously. Whilst recuperating and in a plaster cast from his ankle to his thigh, he got fed up with sitting indoors in his digs and went out for a drink,

He proceeded to take a little too much of the Liffy water after this enforced layoff, and fell down a flight of stairs, breaking the other leg in the process, and it didn't do the healing leg much good either. This had left him with a bit of a gimp, and he was always keen to make things a little easier for himself in such a physically demanding roll.

For those who don't know, 'Paddy' when he has a man to feed, will take a pride in keeping him working and busy, and John was no exception in this. After some thought, John decided to lead the bricks in with the dump truck which was being occasionally used in the demolition areas, but not this morning.

The first I knew of this change of plan, (from behind walls of brick which were now approaching ground level) was an horrendous crashing, revving of diesel motor and general racket made up in equal parts of voluble curses of a bloodcurdling kind and the screeching of metal on brick. I can't claim that the building shuddered with the impacts, it was too solidly built for that, but it might well have otherwise.

After a few moments the foreman appeared and started remonstrating with John.

I had jumped out of the pit by this time and caught the tail end of a fairly heated exchange.

John had filled the dump truck with bricks and was negotiating his way, heretofore successfully, through the ample door openings with the load I needed, to give himself some respite from my constant demands.

(I would expect to lay about 1000 bricks a day on such a straight forward job)


The foreman was at some pains to demonstrate to John that the big wheel axle on the front of the dumper truck was 2" too wide to pass through the last opening, and he, John, should tip the bricks at the opening and barrow then from there to my work area, some 20 yards further.

As this meant 'double handling' of the brick, John was not impressed, but after much gesticulation and more words that should not be repeated in polite society, John accepted his fate.

I could see that John was not entirely convinced, and much grumbling and hard looks at both the offending doorway and circling of the dump truck ensued over the next few hours.

At the lunch break period John was somewhat subdued, being as we found out, deep in thought about this seemingly intractable problem of leading bricks in without 'double handling', and at the end of lunch a light could be detected in his eye and a lightening of his brow, as he said to the foreman, "Do you think if I drove the truck in through the door backwards that would do it?"


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