A Sick Note for the Ages

This tune’s been stuck in my head for a few days now, so I’m sharing. But let me be clear on one thing: It’s not stuck in my head because my job is anything like this. Not even metaphorically. (Well, not very metaphorically, anyway.)

And it’s not (to the best of my knowledge) triggered by any recent insanity on the InterWebs, though that would be a bit easier for me understand.

I think it actually comes from my childhood. Just another example of the fact that my clearest, most vivid childhood memories almost always involve music. And we had a tape with Irish songs on it that got regular play in the Susanka house, especially while we were cleaning. And OK, yes. I’m a bit twisted, humor-wise.


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There’s a version featuring The Corries’ Roy Williamson performing it LIVE! that’s a ton of fun. That particular video’s got a bunch of  distracting sound glitches in it, though, so it’s not the best introduction to the piece. Still, he’s so obviously enjoying himself that I’ve always managed to put up with them. Besides, there’s no need to pick just one, right? That’s not how the InterWebs work.

Oh, and here’s a live performance from The Dubliners’ Sean Cannon, where he sings without accompaniment. And here’s Noel Murphy. And one from the Clancy Brothers & Robbie O’Connell, which is also unaccompanied. Plus, just for the heck of it, a stand-up version from Gerard Hoffnung’s 1958 Oxford Union Address, in which he sounds disconcertingly like Nigel Bruce to me. (Also, an interesting bit from the song’s writer, Pat Cooksey, on the origins of the piece.)

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

Whilst working on the fourteenth floor,some bricks I had to clear
To throw them down from such a height was not a good idea
The foreman wasn’t very pleased, the bloody awkward sod
He said I had to cart them down the ladders in my hod.

Now clearing all these bricks by hand, it was 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 was heavier than me.

And so when I untied the rope, the barrel fell like lead
And clinging tightly to the rope I started up instead
I shot up like a rocket till to my dismay I found
That half way up I met the bloody barrel coming down.

Well the barrel broke my shoulder, as to the ground it sped
And when I reached the top I banged the pulley with my head
I clung on tightly, numb with shock, from this almighty blow
And the barrel spilled out half the bricks, fourteen floors below.

Now when these bricks had fallen from the barrel to the floor
I then outweighed the barrel and so started down once more
Still clinging tightly to the rope, my body racked with pain
When half way down, I met the bloody barrel once again.

The force of this collision, half way up the office block
Caused multiple abrasions and a nasty state of shock
Still clinging tightly to the rope I fell towards the ground
And I landed on the broken bricks the barrel scattered round.

I lay there groaning on the ground I thought I’d passed the worst
But the barrel hit the pulley wheel, and then the bottom burst
A shower of bricks rained down on me, I hadn’t got a hope
As I lay there bleeding on the ground, I let go the bloody rope.

The barrel then being heavier then started down once more
And landed right across me as I lay upon 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.

The Old Brick Layer. Photograph by Gertrude Jekyll, Old West Surrey (1904).

About Joseph Susanka

Joseph has been doing development work for institutions of Catholic higher education since graduating from Thomas Aquinas College in 1999. A grateful resident of Wyoming, he spends his free time exploring the beautiful Wind River Mountains, keeping track of his (currently) seven sons, and thanking his lucky stars for Netflix.