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Bricking It

February 12, 2012

I wrote ‘Bricking It’ on the morning of Tuesday 8th February last year.

Angela Topping, our wonderful Northwich poet, had a chapbook coming out from Salt Publishing called I Sing of Bricks.  The title poem, celebrating the charms of those “cakes of baked clay”, was quite lovely.  ‘Bricking It’ was my quite unlovely response!  Based on a particular sewer survey I carried out in the spring of ’74, my prose poem offered a different “take” altogether.  The writing was much more fun than the experience and I hoped Angela would find the result amusing.

I was a few paragraphs into the piece on screen when, at around 10 a.m., I had a phone call from a very happy daughter…

Joanne was ringing from hospital with exciting news.  At 7:51 that morning she’d given birth to her second child, a baby brother for Oliver, our sixth grandchild – Finley.

My wife Stella and I were over the moon!  And it was a wonderful moment that evening, at Jo and Rob’s house, when we met the little chap for the very first time…

On Wednesday last week, the 8th, we visited Finley on his first birthday.  And there he was, smiling broadly and taking a great interest in everything, a gorgeous little boy with very much his own look and personality.  “Every day is a fun day,” proclaimed the wording on his bib, and I’m sure that’s just how it is for Fin.

His proper birthday party will take place this afternoon, and it’ll be a good do to be sure.  We’re looking forward to it.

At Angela Topping’s request, I read ‘Bricking It’ at the February BLAZE event in Northwich last year, at which I Sing of Bricks was launched.  Below is a revised version.



He had a special feeling for bricks.  He loved crumbling garden walls encrusted in moss, herringbone panels framed in oak, Ruabon Reds at sunset…

Yet haunted he was too, haunted by a dark memory from his early days on the job, when dowsing rods were still in use and camera surveys undreamt of.


Down a Victorian brick sewer, deep beneath a city side-street, he searches by torchlight for an unmapped drain.  Bent almost double, helmet scraping the barrelled roof, effluent overspilling his gumboots, he wades upstream.  Turds pass under his nose; tangles of tissue too.  And isn’t that a rat with the whiskers there?

Ahead, the tunnel is hazed in fumes from the foul flow.  And now the stench hits him, the get-out-quick stench – methane!

Woozy and gagging, he turns, or attempts to, but cannot, because his shoulders are held in the rough grip of the brick curvature on either side…

Bricking it, adrenalin pumping, he finds salvation in slime.


Aye, it was a special feeling for bricks he had, Jane Austen’s house at Chawton a particular delight of his sixty-fourth year.


Copyright © Paul Beech 2011

From → Poetry

  1. Angela permalink

    I’m sure I remember the original telling of this!

    • Hi Angela, you probably do as it’s a true story which I’m sure I’ve regaled family and friends with many times over the years! Another one from the same era concerned my near decapitation when I stuck my head out of an open manhole just as a colleague skidded to a halt in the works van above…

      Lovely to hear from you. Paul 🙂

  2. Nice, Paul, almost a thriller … I love, and recognize, your descriptions. Your unique writing style is becoming recognizable to me.

    I couldn’t help thinking about Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton on the Honeymooners. Jackie Gleason was always berating his co-star, Norton, the good-hearted sewerage worker, always with a big smile and a hearty laugh.

    Of course, your protagonist had nothing to laugh at in his predicament.

    I mostly enjoyed your story the joyous event of Finley coming into the world. I became a grandfather, too, twenty-one (21) months ago, and I’m sure that you’ll agree that we want our little ones to have it better that we did. I raised my girls without once raising my voice or striking them, and the results proved to be phenomenal. Little Sophia’s personality reflects that of a well-rounded child – her expressions are indicative of a content and happy young girl. For that, I am proud.

    Yes, a new life coming into the world means we have one more chance to get it right, and to rectify damages done in our own …

    • Thanks, Jackie.

      Interesting, the parallel you draw with The Honeymooners. I was a draughtsman in an engineering office, working in a section nicknamed the Sewage & Hydraulic Investigation Team because it provided a very apt acronym! ‘Bricking It’ verges on horror – a potential that would have been fully realised if, as might so easily have happened, I’d collapsed in the effluent or the wonky old brickwork had collapsed behind me…

      It’s good to hear you’re a grandad too. Sophia clearly brings you purest joy, as my grandchildren do me. Can be tiring, childminding, of course, but so rewarding too. Wouldn’t have it any other way.

      Finley’s first birthday yesterday afternoon and evening was a very happy occasion enjoyed by all. Good chat, good food, kids romping all over the show, having fun. Long balloons released unstoppered to rip this way and that through the assembled company. And in the middle of it all, Finley, looking very cute and cuddly in a little chequered ‘Tigger’ top and blue jeans…

      All best, Paul

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