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edition 1 (237)
January 2019

Don’t go forgetting your physics

Tomasz Cudowski

Don’t go forgetting  your physics

The late Russian stand up comedian and writer Mikhail Zadornov entered the pantheon of satire with a particular monologue that he would frequently deliver during stage performances towards end of the communist era. I think the construction sector should take note

In the sketch Zadornov would read from a letter, in which the supposed writer describes his attempt to steal bricks from an empty construction site. The man dreams of building an extension onto his house, but has previously shown little aptitude for practical subjects or for science at school. Nonetheless he undertakes to build the extension himself. Obviously, to do the building work, he needs bricks, but why should he buy them when there is an empty construction site next to his house? Beautiful, new, unclaimed bricks lie on the sixth floor of a block where no one has appeared for work for the last year or so. It seems an act of providence, but why should he run up and down the stairs carrying such a heavy load? Surely Slavs are famous for their ingenuity? The builders lifted these bricks up using a device that was ingenious in its simplicity (though perhaps never seen in any other country). It consists of a wooden barrel tied to a rope that goes through a pulley hanging from the sixth floor. When the absent builders last finished their work, they had pulled the barrel up (so that no one would steal it of course) and tied the other end to a concrete mixer.

The man goes up to the sixth floor and fills the barrel to the brim with bricks after which he goes down to the bottom, wraps the rope around his wrist, and then unties it from the mixer. Since the barrel turns out to be much heavier than the man, who only (as mentioned before) has a fleeting acquaintanceship with physics, he shoots up like a rocket. As he approaches the third floor, while taking in the charming views of the neighbourhood with wild staring eyes, this connoisseur of free bricks notices the barrel come rushing down to meet him. Where else is it supposed to go? After all, they are travelling along opposing trajectories. Fortunately at the last moment, he manages to dodge the barrel and half a tonne of bricks whistles by as the man rises up almost right up to the pulley on the sixth floor.

‘Finally, it’s over’, he thinks to himself with relief even going so far as to wipe his forehead with his left hand (that is the one not wrapped around the rope). But then a dull thud can be heard from far below. The barrel has hit the ground and it breaks open with the bottom falling off and all the bricks pouring out. Suddenly the man is now much heavier than the broken barrel and so in accordance with the inexorable laws of physics, he starts his return to the ground plummeting downwards. As he whooshes passed the third floor he once again narrowly misses the barrel, which is now hurtling skywards. But this time a collision with the ground is unavoidable and he smashes into his pile of purloined bricks. When he comes to after having lain unconscious for an indeterminate period of time he is still feeling completely dazed and disorientated. The first thought to come to him is, “Who has gone and wrapped this rope around my wrist?” So he loosens the binds and then ... from above, with the ominous rattle of a madly spinning pulley the remains of the barrel fall from the heavens to smash into him.

Why is it that I’m recounting this particular yarn from the 1980s? Well, it seems to me that this is a brilliant metaphor for what some people and companies are doing right now in their desperate and sometimes bizarre attempts to deal with the problems that beset the construction market. But you really shouldn’t be forgetting your physics! ν

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