WATTLE AND DAUB

a short story about two disgusting boys and their brilliant idea



The two boys leant back against the freshly plastered wall. Brief enjoyment of the heat of the midday sun was one of the few perks of this job. To sit and chat a few moments, enjoy a snatched mouthful of bread and a swig of weak ale was a sublime moment indeed. For a change, the view wasn't bad either, looking north, right across the river, over the smokey rooftops to the countryside beyond the great city.

"What d'yer reckon this place is going to be then?" Daub asked his pal.

Daub was always reckoned to be a bit brighter than his pal, and there were certainly fierce arguments between them as to just who had the most skilled job. Like all good pals, they argued, constantly.

Wattle's job was to cut and place all the timber laths that made the framework of the walls in between the main timbers. It was a fairly skilled job, to get this framework just right in order for Daub to place his mixture of steaming horse dung and river mud onto the wattled laths as the infill. Enough of this filling, when dried out, made an enormously strong wall, that could then be plastered smooth and whitewashed. So, between them, Wattle and Daub made walls where it was too expensive to use bricks.

Anyway, as far as Wattle and Daub were concerned, bricks were becoming far too popular. They were not just for the very wealthy these days. Even some churches had been built in brick. Whoever had heard of such a thing. Both lads considered that new bricks were a danger to putting them both out of work - this new technology ought to be more strictly controlled.

But when using this old, tried and tested technology, it was important to get the mix of daub just right, a nice smooth paste of wet mud, horse dung, and extra straw as required. Well, as smooth as it could be, considering the ingredients. Too wet, and the whole sorry mess fell out just when you thought it was nearly finished, and made one hell of a mess of a boy's overalls into the bargain. Too dry, and it dried far too quick and cracked, causing one royally cheesed off boy to get a sharp crack around the ear from the Site Foreman, or even the Master Builder himself.

In truth, these jobs were so skilled that neither could be completely entrusted to two lads of a mere 13 years. Both boys were, in fact, apprentices. Apprenticed to the trade. Apprenticed to a master wattler, and a master dauber. Basically, to tell even more truth, they fetched and carried. Made the tea. Swept the floor. And occasionally got to cutting some wattles, or applying some daub. But not much. Naturally enough, to all their mates, they were Wattle and Daub, and the names stuck. A bit like 'oss dung to . . . . oh, well, never mind.

Those, of course, was not their real names. Wattle's first name was Harry, in honour of his grandpa. And his father's name was William, who went by the surname of Webb. Wattle didn't like his real first name. Being called Harry Webb seemed, well, pretentious. It sounded more like one of these new bands of Christian travelling singers, singers of these new popular songs. Yeah, a pop singer, that's what he sounded like. Wattle signed himself, on rare occasions when he was called to sign anything, Wattle Webb. But it usually looked as if a spider had crawled over the page instead. He hadn't learnt to write all that well.

Daub, unfortunately, didn't have a father. At least, that's what his mother told him. Her father was called Riddle, and she called her son James, after her pa. Daub didn't like his real name either. He preferred to be called Jim, or even Jimmy.

As for skills, real skills, the pair of them earnt just six groats a week. Not enough to keep them in crisps! But the boss on the site obviously thought them equally skilled - for young 'uns! So, that settled that point.

"I dunno," Wattle replied to Daub's lazy question, chewing his bread thoughtfully. "It's turning out to be a big place this. I've never worked as high as this before."

To emphasise the point, Wattle looked gingerly over the edge of the narrow scaffolding they both sat upon, enjoying the warm sun. It was a long way down there, to the yard littered with builders' rubble, timber, straw, piles of wet mud, and bigger piles of steaming horse dung. And not a few builders. A long way to fall if a boy lost his footing over the edge, and so, thought Daub as he also looked over, a long way to climb back up again.

Heck! Was he well sick and tired of climbing up and down that scaffolding. Hundreds of times a day, it seemed. If only there was a way of getting all the stuff, the daub mix, as well as the timber and everything else, up the scaffolding a bit quicker, and more of it at a time. The water for the mix was hauled up in buckets, but poor labourers like Wattle and Daub had to carry all their own materials. Apart from wearing, it must slow the job down as well.

"Didn't you say your uncle had something to do with it?" Daub ventured after another swig of ale steadied his nerve.

"It was him that got me this job," Wattle laughed, "Good old Uncle Will he's really my mum's uncle, Bless His Lazy Heart!"

"Lazy?"

"Yeah. Lazy," Wattle replied, "it's what my Da always says about him. A jobbing quill-pusher, Da reckons. And not a very good actor either!"

"Well, he don't seem to be doing too bad on it. I'll bet he doesn't shovel 'oss dung for his daily bread," Daub ruminated thoughtfully as he pulled another piece from his loaf and scoffed it.

He broke another larger piece and handed it to Wattle. Daub brought the bread for lunch one day, and Wattle the ale, and switched on alternate days.

"Hm," Wattle answered, "and shouldn't you think about washing your hands before you have your lunch?" It was more of a statement than a question. Wattle was only too aware that Daub mixed all his own mix for the master dauber, and occasionally was allowed to apply the stuff to the wall himself. Generally, he was filthy.


"Wha-ffor!" Daub exclaimed.

"So we don't get these nasty little yellowy-brown stains, to say nothing of odd bits of straw, all in our dinner!" Wattle replied angrily. "It's not healthy - cor, you'll be telling me the straw's really bran, an' the brown bits are roughage next !"

"Healthy! What do you know about healthy!!" Daub brushed his hands free of crumbs and stood up. "Good stuff, that is," he went on, "good, fresh, nature's produce. Organic, that is." Daub pointed to the broken remains of his loaf, and popped another morsel into his mouth.

"I'm not on about the bread, you clot!" Wattle hissed, "I'm on about what you put on it."

"Ach. Get on with yer! That's organic 'n all - good enough to spread on toast."

"You filthy swine," Wattle replied with some venom.

Daub, now standing to his full height of four foot ten, took grave exception to being called a 'swine', and let out a vicious kick at the still prone Wattle, leaning as he was with his back to the wall. But Wattle, a little too quick for him, caught Daub by the foot and gave it a sharp twist and a good lift into the bargain.

Daub staggered back, and could see exactly where he would be going if he didn't quickly regain his balance. Into the builder's yard six floors below.

Fortunately, just at that minute, who should pass along the rickety scaffolding but the Site Foreman, who calmly reached out and stopped Daub's untimely leap to his death, pulling him back from the brink.

"AND what do you think you're up to, my lad?" The foreman stuck his face into Daub's. "Had a drop too much to drink, have we? Or just tired of life?"

The foreman gave the lad a hefty thwack across the leathers of his backside, and pushed him back towards the smiling Wattle.

"Come on, tea break's over. Let's get some work done, you two."

The two boys playfully pushed and jostled each other as soon as the foreman was around the bend of the scaffold and out of sight. A funny building this, Wattle thought again. Sort of, well, not square, nor rectangular, but, well, multi-sided. It had bends, not corners. Oh, well, it was time to get back to work.


2.


Mid-afternoon, in the blazing sun, found Daub helping to apply some of the newly mixed plaster to a fresh wall. It was darned high up here, right under the new thatched roof that was just starting to go on.

He worked rhythmically, fetching the smelly mix up in great dollops from the leather bucket, and applying it to the wall with a large wooden board fitted with a handle. He had to be fast. The main thing was to get it on before it dried too fast.

The scaffolding swayed and rocked as he worked, and the warmth of the sun on his back and the ale in his belly made him start to hum a tune, and then to sing some words.

"Oh, we'll drink, we'll drink, we'll drink,
To Lily the Pink, the Pink, the Pink,
The sav-iour of the human ra-ha-hace . . ."

"Hey, do you mind!!" shouted up a man working on the landing below, "change the song, I can't stand that crap!"

"Sorry," Daub shouted down with true regret, "I don't know what came over me - it was the scaffold made me do it."

"Well, cut it out!" The man below had the last word.

A few minutes later, Wattle turned up, and thumped Daub on the back, their previous argument completely forgotten - for now.

"Hey, guess what?"

"What?"

"This place - guess what it is - guess what it's going to be?"

"No. Go on . . ."

"A theatre, that's what."

Daub had never heard of a theatre.

"Whassoneofthosethen?"

"Well, you know, a . . . a theatre, where actors and playboys, well, sort of strut their stuff and do all those poncey things."

"Oh."

"Yeah. And guess what it's going to be called?"

"Go on," Daub said, as he slapped another dollop on the wet wall, smoothed it with his hand, and abstractly licked a wet finger as if it were cake mix.

"The Globe!"

"Gettaway!"

"Yup. The Globe. It's a big name, innit?" Wattle said, straightening up one or two laths before Daub could cover them.

"The Globe . . . the Globe," repeated Daub. "That's good. I like it. I reckon it might catch on, that." And he slapped a massive dollop right across Wattle's hands.

"Ooops! Sorry about that . . ."

"No you're not."

"Hey, Wattle, I say. Seeing as your real name's Webb, and you're working on . . The . . Globe, then I reckon we should give you a new nickname."

"Oh yeah, and what would that be?"

"World--Wide--Webb, of course!" Daub laughed fit to burst, and stumbled against his bucket. Which promptly tipped over and spilled its soggy wet, muddy, smelly contents out and all over the scaffolding boards. The gooey mixture lost no time in running through the gaps, and dropping onto the heads of the workmen below, one of which was the man who had taken exception to Daub's singing.

"Heyupp!" came the predictable shout from below, "I'll come up there in a minute and make a new saddle out of your arse if you don't pack it in!"

Wattle and Daub looked over the edge, carefully, just in time to dodge a carefully aimed lump of wet mix from below that passed straight between the heads of both of them.

"It's a good job we ducked," Wattle said to Daub, pushing him in the ribs.

"Unfortunately, I didn't," said the Site Foreman, who had been standing silently right behind the pair of them. His face was dripping with, er, mix, and he carefully removed a large piece of straw that was lodged like a nasal hair in the crevasse of his huge nose.

"I've warned you two -- more than once . . . now get below and see me in my office. Five minutes."

The foreman stomped off, making the scaffold shake even more, and so dislodging even more muddy mix onto the upturned faces of the men below, still watching the show. Ah, well, all in a day's work.


3.

The foreman was very angry. The Site Manager was very angry. The Master Builder was very angry. And Wattle's uncle Will was very angry.

Wattle and Daub could tell they were angry, very angry, by the way they were all lined up in the Site Foreman's hut, just inside the new theatre complex. The foreman had cleaned his face, and got rid of any remaining straw. And cleaned up his hat. That was a bad sign, when the boss cleaned his hat. Wattle and Daub stood almost to attention, looking suitably contrite (that's when you try to look not just sorry, but very sorry) and braced themselves for what must come next.

The Site Manager opened proceedings.

"Right, you two - what have you got to say for yourselves?"

The two boys looked nervously at each another.

"Nothing sire," spake Daub.

"Nothing sire," likewise spake Wattle.

"Right," cut in the Master Builder, a huge, bearded man called Watson, "give me one good reason why I should keep either one of you idiots on this site." He looked sharply at both boys.

Wattle thought, "'Aw Heck! - this is it - the sack - what will me' Da say!"

Watson spoke again.

"How the hell can I improve the efficiency of this site, and finish this project on time, if we have to put up with clots like you clowning about, disrupting other workers and stopping the job? Heh? We're six months behind as it is!"

No answer came from either boy.

"Have you any ideas, laddie?" Watson asked, sticking his face almost into Wattle's.

"Nay sire."

Watson turned and stooped even lower to address the shorter Daub, who could smell the Master Builder's breath, and thought that it reminded him of a bullock with halitosis.

"Have you any ideas, boy?"

There was a long pause. And just as Watson seemed about ready to fire off again, and perhaps deliver a verdict, the silence was broken by the shaky voice of Daub.

"Yes, . . . sire . . . we have an idea . . ." Daub trailed off.

All four bosses looked at each other. Wattle gave a quick, questioning glance at Daub. Daub looked nervously back, but his eyes said - 'trust me - leave it to me.'

Watson gave a sardonic chuckle.

"Hah hah - pray tell, boy, pray tell, what is your idea?"

Daub cleared his throat, which was quite dry by this time, and could have done with a cough sweet - but they hadn't been invented in 1598. So he shuffled his weight from one foot to the other.

"We, sort of . . . had this idea about the hoists . . . sire," Daub ventured with some hesitance.

Wattle again looked anxiously sideways, and gave his pal a slight kick on the ankle. He was not happy about this 'we' bit. In fact, not happy at all.

Anyone listening could have heard a pin drop. The attention of all four men present now focused entirely on the more than aprehensive Daub. Wattle held his breath.

"What about the hoists?" spake the previously silent Uncle Will.

Daub shuffled uncomfortably again.

"We can make it, them, better - work better," Daub said.

Wattle rolled his eyes in despair.

"Go on," said Uncle Will.

That was all the encouragement Daub needed. He took a deep breath and launched into full flow.

"We thought that we could make it go up and down faster - much faster - and carry more mix, or bricks, or thatch - whatever you want . . . it's a brilliant idea," he stated excitedly.

Thanks Pal! thought Wattle. This is your hairbrained, brilliant idea - why drag me into it!

The clutch of bosses were silent, and for a moment seemed a little uncertain. Uncle Will moved to sit on a stool, and broke the silence.

"Well, we could give it a try, give the lad a chance . . ." he ventured to the others, stroking his pointed beard.

Mr Watson turned back to Daub.

"So. How do you propose to achieve this marvellous feat, boy?" he demanded.

Daub smiled, for the first time.

"With a barrel!"


4.

A quarter of an hour later saw the impromptu site disciplinary meeting break up, as two much-relieved boys, and four chattering bosses, emerged from the foreman's site hut. They had the air of a group that had just been planning a workers outing, or daytrip, to the seaside.

Later, one of the other men on the site, a horse master by trade, who along with the rest had fully expected the miscreants to be sacked after a good whipping, was overheard telling the others what he had heard.

"I couldn't believe it! Couldn't believe my eyes. Or my ears. There's that airy-fairy Shakespeare fellow - never carried a hod in his life - an' he has the ear of our boss. 'You see, it's quite simple,' he says, 'elementary, my dear Watson - we must at least give it a try.' Watson, 'ee turns round 'n says he'd have 'em horsewhipped, both of 'em.' But this Shakespeare turns to him an' says, 'I told you it was but a tempest in a teacup - much ado about nothing, if you ask me.'"


The story went around the site like a grass fire. When Wattle got to know of it, and heard what his Uncle Will had supposedly said, he chuckled and said that was another one for the book. Daub asked him what he meant, what book?

"The book he's always writing, of course, or one of those plays of his. I'll bet that's what this place is for, putting on one of his plays."

"Have you ever seen one," asked Daub.

"Nah. My Dad reckons they're all lewd - bawdy romps not fit for the ears of decent folks like me and thee."

They both laughed. Whatever else they were, they weren't 'decent'.

Wattle and Daub were engaged on arranging all the necessary ropes and pulleys for their new idea. A new kind of hoist. Daub was fixing the rope securely to a large barrel. By the smell of it, this barrel had once contained spirit, or brandy. Perhaps off a ship. Cor, struth, it was strong.

They seemed to have a new kind of respect amongst the rest of the workforce working on the Globe Theatre, due for completion within the next year. There had been all sorts of setbacks, as is usually the case with these things.

For a start, costs had started to well outstrip estimates, and it was said that the partnership of theatre people and merchants were already out of pocket. The world would not thank them for leaving this white elephant on Southwark's riverside skyline. It might even have to be pulled down, for it seems proper planning permission had never been applied for in the first place.

But for now, after many delays, including a small fire when the night-watchman dropped his pipe in some straw, the original completion date was now reckoned to be next year, the last of the century. But if Wattle and Daub's idea of a faster hoist could be brought into action, perhaps it could be even sooner. Work, therefore, was feverish.

The Site Manager was not convinced, and neither was Mr Watson. That writer chappie aught to watch his step, and have some respect. Just who does he think he is anyway. Patronising a Master Builder of his stature, just promoted to Site Manager no less, interfering with his workforce and site discipline. Huh! A well-built building like this, constructed to the rigours of the most modern techniques, would be still here in many years hence, long after Master Shakespeare's pathetic scratchings were long since forgotten.

But for now, Wattle and Daub were starting to assemble all the gear for their new idea. It is true that Wattle was warming to the project, though he had his doubts about the 'brilliant' bit. Still, if Daub was going to put his neck on the block, why should he worry? The plan did get them off a severe good-hiding, if only from their respective fathers. And old Uncle Will was turning out to be quite a guy. And all the other lads, and some of the older fellahs, on the site, did seem keen to know what it was they were making, and how this new idea would help them all. They would be really chuffed when they all realised that they'd be able to do the job almost twice as fast. (Trade Unions hadn't been invented in those days).


5.

By the middle of the afternoon after the mud-slinging incident, Daub announced he was almost ready. It was time to rig all the gear up, and give the new hoist a trial run. He thought, mistakenly, that he would simply give it a go, make a few adjustments here and there, ready for the 'grande opening' in the morning. He was wrong.

The whole site turned out. Workmen, tradesmen, foremen, managers, everyone, even on neighbouring sites near the river, all turned up to witness the inaugural run of this new hoist.

Because quite a crowd had gathered, Daub felt it incumbant on himself to explain the basic scientific principles to which he had turned in order to get a solution to the problem. He always warmed to an audience. Mr Watson curled his lip, and watched with interest. The plan had looked alright on paper . . .

Daub explained to the crowd how he would use a large barrel on the ground, and a balance weight at the top of the scaffolding, to hoist great quanities of material to unheard of heights. Furthermore, since all the lads on the site were the ones that mostly had to climb the enumerable ladders to the dizzy tops of this wierd-shaped building, they would benefit more than most. Here, a great cheer went up, which warmed Daub even more to his task. He got into his stride . . . this hoist would work on the principle of balances and counter-weights. This was new technology in action.

Daub finally came to the point where he was ready to lift the first barrel-load of bricks. Purely experimental, of course, in this case, because no bricks were being used at that height on this building. The barrel had been well loaded - loaded with six times the number of bricks that the fittest lad with a hod could carry up all those ladders.

At this point, Daub gave a tentative pull to the great rope attached to the barrel. Then he put his foot on the first rung of a ladder, and explained that he would now climb to the top-most scaffolding, for the very last time. From now on, he would only climb down ladders. Whenever he wanted to go up in future, he would go up in a barrel. Everyone laughed. Wattle had to give it to him; his presentation was as good as that of a magician. He wouldn't have been surprised if Daub had lifted his hat and produced a rabbit.

Off Daub went, climbing laboriously up each flight of ladders, pausing only on each landing to catch his breath, and make great waves to the crowd below. Mr Watson took a deep breath and wished the clown would get on with it.

At last, Daub could be seen right at the top, leaning out and grabbing the rope just below the new rigging of a pulley, and giving great waves to the crowd far below. Everyone waited expectantly, most obviously expectant that the diminutive Daub would start to haul with great strength on the rope and thereby haul the barrel of bricks off the ground.

But he did no such thing. A scraping and rumbling was heard, and presently, a barrel, another barrel, appeared at the edge of the scaffold. It swung free as Daub let it go, and everyone gasped as he caught it on the reverse swing, and in one quick agile movement, hauled himself onto the rope, swung across, and dropped himself into this new barrel.

Daub disappeared, but only for a few moments. The crowd laughed. Presently, he reappeared, waving his arms over the side of this huge barrel that obviously swallowed him up. He made the signal . . . the one to Wattle to let go of the secure end of the rope on the ground.

Wattle knelt down and untied the rope that held the barrel to the foot of the scaffold, and waited to feel it run through his hands. Instead, it dropped to the floor. He looked up, and the barrel of bricks hadn't moved. Not one bit.

Nothing happened. Everyone looked up, and saw Daub's barrel swing about a bit as he tried to cajole it into movement, preferably downwards. Daub could be heard, if not seen, jumping up and down, offering the barrel some gentle encouragement.

Still nothing happened. More waving of mid-air arms, and faint shouts echoing from above. Someone in the crowd started to titter. Then someone else. In no time at all, the whole crowd were falling about laughing. Surely, now they could see what he was planning to do, it became clear that Daub was not heavy enough to take himself and his barrel to the floor of the site, and thereby bring the other barrel of bricks up.

After several moments, a red-faced Wattle had to untie the rope, and with the help of several other burly labourers, they quickly lowered the shame-faced Daub to the ground. No matter, it just needed someone of a greater weight, that's all. Everyone fell about laughing, each man proposing his pal, or another, for the task of testing this mathematical principle of weights and measures. But, it appeared, no one wanted to go in the barrel.

Somehow, no one knew how, maybe because he was so popular, maybe because he wasn't, who could tell, the Site Foreman was elected by his peers and staff to be the only one heavy enough to lift a barrel of bricks. Well, he had been a prize-fighter at summer fairs and the like in his time, and he was a great hulk of a barrel-chested man. The fact that he had also been supping rather large quantities of strong ale whilst these proceedings had developed probably had something to do with his apparent bravado and willingness to make the long climb up the many ladders, and to climb into the barrel. His friends patted his back as he passed, and generally cheered him on. Charles, for that was the Site Foreman's proper name, did seek assurance, as to whether he really should do this, from his fellow management, but only Uncle Will seemed totally approving.

"As you like it, dear boy, as you like it," was all Uncle Will had to say, sucking on one of those new fangled smoking things called a hamlet. (It was something his friend Wally had brought back from the New World as a gift for the Queen, but she had said she preferred a King Size).

So Charles allowed himself to become the star of this experiment. But it took some time. For a start, he wasn't all that steady on the ladders. So when he tried to get into the topmost barrel, he almost hanged himself by getting the rope around his neck. Daub had to give considerable assistance. In the end, it was thought that it would be better for Charles to climb into the huge barrel whilst it was balanced on the edge of the scaffolding. Daub would then simply push him off, launched, as it were, to begin his downward journey and back to his jug of ale. That was the plan, and so that was decided upon.

Just at the last minute, when Charles was well-ensconced in the barrel, perched precariously on the edge, he seemingly had a change of heart. He no longer wanted to descend in the barrel. Daub was not going to be outdone in his attempts to patent this new lifting device, and firmly got hold of Charles' huge head and pushed it back down in the barrel.

As he did so, the barrel unexpectedly moved, and to catch his balance, Daub reached up and grabbed the thick rope. That was enough to tip the balance, and the barrel, complete with Charles out of sight inside, and Daub within sight swinging on top, tipped over the edge, and swung away from the side of the scaffolding.

The crowd gave a huge gasp, for it was their understanding that this was not part of the plan. Wattle gave a huge gasp, and firmly gripped the edge of the barrel of bricks, for it was his understanding that Daub was completely nuts! Daub should not be riding on the barrel as well.

Of course, the barrel, now with its combined weight of itself, and Charles, the one-time prize-fighter, and the thirteen-year-old Daub, now weighed quite a bit more than the barrel on the ground, with its combined weight of itself, and six hod loads of bricks.

The result of this imbalance was instant.

The top barrel, now spiralling with its human load, commenced an almost instant descent as if it were in love with the ground and couldn't be re-united with it quick enough. The bottom barrel, which Wattle had been leaning on, gave a massive jerk, as the descent of the top barrel quickly took up the slack in the rope, and began a just-as-instant rise to the heavens. The accompanying noise was tremendous, and in his panic to understand what was happening, Wattle knew he had forgotten something. Ah, yes. He had forgotten to let go.

Wattle was now ascending to the stars just about as fast as Daub and his riding companion were descending to the good earth. The ascent was so swift that it took Wattle's breath away. He let a loud cry of "Geee . ." and so was invented the principle of the 'G' force. The other barrel's descent was so swift that it made the poor Charles, who, hidden deep inside his barrel, to return his breakfast back whence the way it went down.

Mr Watson, still rooted to the spot on the ground, and not being stupid, instantly perceived that this combined motion had all the makings of a potential disaster, let out a great "aaaahhhh."

The top barrel now gathered a great deal of speed, the pull of the earth being what it is. Nobody knew what this pull was called then, but most had some idea that something very grave was happening right then. And of course, the slack now completely gone from the rope, whatever came down at great speed, would similarly pull whatever was attached to it on the ground at a similar speed upwards.

And so it went. Or rather, they both went. One barrel hurtling down, the other hurtling up. All might have been fine up to that point. But the barrel hurtling down just happened to give a passing swipe at the barrel hurtling up. As they collided, bits and chunks of wood flew off both barrels, and their respective flights were momentarily halted.

Daub, not slow to make an advantage, quickly realised that there was no real future in continuing this headlong rush to earth. He reached out and caught hold of the other rope attached to the other barrel, the one that still had Wattle clinging to its side.

Of course, this now meant that the barrel containing Charles, but minus Daub, was just about the same weight as the barrel containing the bricks. They should have achieved a rough balance at this point. But the barrel containing the bricks now had Daub aboard, as well as the much heavier Wattle, who had long since given up any idea of letting go. The combined weight of the bricks, Wattle and Daub, now far outweighed the barrel of just . . . well, just Charles.

Back up Charles went, at a terrifying rate, and just at the point when Charles had managed to stand and reach up to his full height, to peer over the side of his ariel carriage, he once again, threw up. Not a strong stomach for heights, that man.

The crowd now considered all this spectacle great sport. They let out a great howl of delight as the barrels reversed direction, and Charles, the foreman and one-time prize-fighter, fearsome of no man nor no beast known to man, went hurtling skywards once more.

Conversely, as is the way with these things, the barrel containing the bricks flew downwards. As did Wattle and Daub. Wattle still clinging to the side and wishing he had not had so much beer at lunchtime, and Daub standing atop the stacked piles of bricks and clinging on for dear life to the rope.

Down, down, they went, and reached the floor, funnily enough, just at the same moment that Charles' barrel reached the extra-large pulley at the very top. Charles had once again retreated out of sight inside his barrel. When this reached the top of its travel, all the available rope having gone through the pulley, the barrel itself, naturally enough, hit the pulley. With enormous force, it has to be said. This caused such a shuddering halt to the barrel's upward travel that the impact shook loose some of its timbers, which came flying away through the air in pretty patterns. In fact, it lost a considerable amount of it's timbers, and Charles was mindful of the need to grab hold of the rope still attached to stop himself being pitched clean out.

On hitting the ground, Wattle's barrel of bricks made an even louder noise, to the great satisfaction of the assembly there gathered, and he, being as quick in his thinking as Daub, took this opportunity to alight. There didn't seem any point in staying aboard, now that he had landed. Perhaps the term alight is a bit strong. Shall we say, he let go. Or maybe it was the force of his barrel hitting the ground that threw him off. Who cares? He didn't. He was off, and on terra firma. Bruised, stomach churning, but grounded.

The force of the landing winded Daub, who still held on to the rope like it was his long-lost brother. Of course, this barrel, we'll have to call it Daub's barrel now, was now lighter, to the tune of the weight of Wattle, freshly alighted, and a few planks from the side, oh, and a couple of bricks that fell from a new hole in the bottom. Considerably lighter.

But let us return to the plight of Charles, the popular or unpopular foreman, in his barrel, now suspended at the top of the hoist, grabbling desperately with his fingers to try and get a hold of the pulley. Of course, his barrel was now once again heavier than Daub's, which was, as we've seen, considerably lighter than what it had been hitherto, if you get my drift. Naturally, Charles' barrel being easily the heavier, it started its downward travel with increased enthusiasm. The slight slack once again taken up on the rope, Daub and his barrel took off like a skyrocket, losing some more bricks as it launched itself into space, and so making it even lighter still.

The crowd let out a great sigh, and another great 'aaaarrrrhhhh', as the two barrels once again hurtled towards each other.

One might have reasonably expected that, when the two barrels had previously passed before and collided, they would do so again. It was obvious that this is what the crowd expected. About two hundred on-lookers, including all Wattle and Daub's colleagues on the site, the three site bosses, and Wattle's Uncle Will, all their eyes fixed skywards, and there was an audible clenching and gnashing of teeth as the two barrels swiftly closed the gap.

Well, we don't always get everything we expect in this world. And so it was this time. The two barrels, if only by a gnat's hair's breadth, missed each other. Perhaps this was because both barrels had lost some amount of side-planking, and thus they were a little smaller in circumference than formerly when in a pristine condition. Whatever it was, it seemed like a minor miracle.

The crowd gasped again, and by now, several had fainted through holding their breath.

Daub's barrel, hell-bent intent on reaching the moon before the Americans could, shot up even faster. Whereas Charles' barrel plummeted to good old mother earth like a . . . a barrel full of Charles.

It hit the ground at full pelt, the bottom hoop split, most of the side-planking sprang off in a misted cloud of dust and 'oss dung mix, revealing Charles, wide-eyed and most definitely legless, in an attitude of prayer, though most could see that he did in fact have good hold of the loose end of the rope inside the barrel. Being not a little dazed, Charles wasn't immediately sure whether he was up or down. His instinct was, and had been for some time now, not to let go of that bloody rope - and he didn't intend to let go of it now.

Of course, as Charles and his barrel hit the ground, Daub's barrel was just making renewed contact with the top pulley, which it likewise hit at full pelt. And just as likewise, the barrel suffered more damage, more planks were lost as they showered into the crowd, as well as several more bricks.

Daub himself, standing precariously atop his barrel load of remaining bricks, clinging with both arms to his end of the rope - by now a burning, smouldering, fraying rope it must be added - hit the pulley almost head on. Instead of being four foot ten, he now felt more like two foot two, and was starting to wonder if this was all such a good idea after all. It was not a good time for mental arithmetic, but thoughts crossed his mind that the maths were all wrong here somewhere.

Having momentarily come to a stop, and still swinging madly, Daub took a cautious look down, but immediately shut his eyes and held on tighter to the rope. Just as he was about to think about trying to swing himself in toward the scaffolding, his barrel decided that it was still heavier than the one currently on the ground, and started to move. Daub's broken barrel, even minus another dozen or so bricks that had fallen out on the way up, still weighed more that Charles by himself, clinging for grim death on his end of the rope.

A couple of quick-thinking workmen in the crowd did dart forward, with the idea of rescuing their Site Foreman from his marriage to the rope, but what their motive was, know one knows. But they were not quick-thinking enough, and, hampered by several of the crowd because this was just too much good fun, they failed in their attempt.

So just as Daub's barrel started its downward journey once more, Charles' end of the rope suddenly lost its slack, his head was thrown back, and - whoo-ooosh! - he was off again! Charles was now, to all and intents and purposes, without his barrel, this having disintegrated on previous impact, leaving just one plank somehow attached to the seat of Charles' pants - and that probably by a nail.

Charles and Daub had no trouble missing each other this time - they missed by a mile. Though one or two of the bricks falling from Daub's barrel may have caught Charles a glancing blow as they passed. Well, one can't have everything all one's own way all the time, and Charles was on his way up in the world once more.

Again, Daub hurtled to the ground. Again, Charles hurtled upward to make a fond re-aquaintance with the large wooden pulley. At least, it would seem a fond re-aquaintance to the watchers on the ground, for he appeared to kiss it - just after his fingers had run into the pulley wheel and allowed it to extract some of his finger nails. Charles at this point did let out a mighty yell. As you do in such painful circumstances.

Daub couldn't believe he was going down yet again, and was by now feeling quite sick. His promotion prospects appeared to have somwhat diminished as he watched, mesmerised, the ground rushing up at him once more, and realised that his only chance of saving himself from having his lower regions bricked up would be to dive off sideways just before he hit the ground and try to land in the huge pile of steaming 'oss dung. So, now nurturing a vague hope that he would one day like to get married and sire children after all, he made a leap for it, and aimed for the biggest Richard the Third he could see. (Daub had been born within the sound of Bow Bells . . .)

Horse dung, steaming, stonking piles of it, never felt so good. Soft. Warm. Comforting. Daub opened his eyes, looked up and re-focussed just in time to see the hapless Charles, nay, the senseless Charles, nay even more, the hopeless, senseless, Charles, begin his final downward flight. For hopeless this must surely be, and just as final, one would have thought. But, as in all the best tragedies, fate had one more card to play.

The rope, itself now just as sick of this repeated sea-sawing as the main participants, was much worn and frayed. Aye, and smouldering too. Forsooth! There was smoke! Charles, all the breath having long since been winded from his rather corpulent frame, looked skyward to his God, and let out a silent descending scream of prayer-cum-anguish.

It may well be that his God was listening, for just as the crowd, as well as Charles, expected the former Site Foreman to bless this earth with a massive thwack, a frayed part of the smouldering rope jammed in the top pulley. Jammed solid.

The piece of rope Charles was gripping hold of with such tenacity suddenly taughtened even more, and Charles was brought up with such a jerk that he very nearly let go.

Amazingly, barely ten feet from the ground, Charles came to an abrupt stop. Still clinging on, he bungy-jumped for a moment, and the crowd let out a huge hissing sigh of relief, or disappointment, depending on one's viewpoint. Charles looked down in disbelief , and realised that his prayers had been answered. But the crowd's relief, and that of Charles, was slightly premature. For this rigging, worn and frayed beyond hope for a rope, finally gave in. It snapped.

Charles made that final descent at a much slower speed than he would have done, and Daub considered that he should at least have given thanks for that.

Charles did indeed hit the ground, or more accurately, fell to the ground. Upside down. And true, he was grateful, nay, thankful, to be back on God's earth. Bruised and battered, beaten, and bashed around beyond endurance, Charles was also very angry. Quite unjustly, Daub thought. In years to come, folks would pay for a ride like that. There could be money made there.

The crowd, applauding with delight as if the whole show had been staged just for their benefit, now started to disperse. The fun was over. The weather had stayed fine, nobody had been killed, in fact, to be truthful, there weren't much to laugh at - at all.

6.

Wattle and Daub's brilliant idea had been tried, and tested, and had been found somewhat wanting. Wattle, himself still shaken, wanted to have nothing more to do with the whole business. It wasn't his idea in the first place. He was still muttering unintelligable thoughts when he almost bumped into his Uncle Will, as he wandered aimlessly around trying to clear his head. Uncle Will appeared to be talking to Mr Watson.

"Well, my dear Watson, it very nearly worked, don't you think. Just a slight imbalance in things, here and there. Things need a bit of adjusment, methinks. Sort of, well . . . measure for measure should do it."

"Huh. Do you think so, Will," Mr Watson replied sardonically. "Myself, I think it was a real comedie of errors, if ever there was one!"

"Well," said Uncle Will finally, "I suppose Dauby Jimmy Riddle will feel a bit daunted . . . but then again, I don't suppose Charlie Foreman will feel up to very much for a while." He turned to the still fumbling Wattle.

"What do you think about it, Master Webb?"

Wattle Webb was by now just regaining some of his senses.

"Oh, me? What do I think?" he chuckled, "well, Uncle Will, I think . . . all's well that ends well, that's what I think."

And so it was. Charlie Foreman recovered to fore over men another day. Daub left engineering problems to those with a head for mathematics. Wattle decided that building site work was far too hard and injurious to his person, and fixed his sights on becoming a writer. Yes he would write, like his other uncle, William Webb. He had written a marvellous book, so he was told, a "Discourse on English Poetrie" in the same year as he himself had been born.

Yesseree! He would learn to write . . . poetrie, and plays, just like both his Uncle Wills. Some other silly devil could finish building this stupid theatre! There was no future in them, anyway. Besides, didn't he see an advert in the paper the other day -

'Brethren wanted for short sea cruise - apply: Mr Standish PO BOX 1620, Plymouth'

Surely, they would want writers to tell their tale . . . .

AND THAT IS THE END OF THIS STUPID TALE









Copyright R L Haywood 1994


idea taken from an original text by someone else