Early in 1974 I was working for the Rawlplug Company in Thornliebank, Glasgow. The company, then owned by Burmah Oil, made a mind-blowing range of drills and fixings, but the humble jute fibre rawlpug was the key earner for them. The jute fibres were extruded then cut, and the binding agent used was composed mainly of pig’s blood, which the female operators carried about in buckets.
Despite the fact that I was leaving, and working my notice period out, I was invited to a Burns supper, and assigned the humble role of replying to the toast to the lassies. Feeling inadequate even for that lowly task, I thought I would write a poem in the Burns style, imagining a period before builders had the incalculable advantage of the Rawlplug, and had to shape their own fixings.
I found my original by accident today while moving books. Here it is. I wore my suit of hodden gray, and it went down quite well on the night …
THE BUILDERS TALE by PETER CURRAN
Long years ago, in Alloway, there live a weel kent man - a master builder, full o’ skill (so this auld legend ran)
Aye, hauf the hooses in the toon his braid strong hauns had built – and, frae the profits, he had filled his coffers tae the hilt
Nae man could rival his sure touch wi’ lumps o’ Ayrshire stane – he finished it in certain ways that came from him alane
An’ when external walls were done, the mason moved inside – his skills extended tae the trade o’ carpenter beside
He sawed resistant planks o’ wood and planed their knotty face, producin’ frae sich ugly things a span o’ licht an’ grace
Alas! When this fine wark was done, he couldnae find at a’ a better way than then he had – tae haud it tae the wa’
When hammerin’ in the masonry a crude and raggit hole, and rammin’ in a chip o’ wood, he cried “I’d gie ma soul ..”
“Tae find a simpler way than this that I could make a fixin’ – that widnae bluidy well fa’ oot, like some puir mortar mixin’ …”
So to this thorny problem his energies he bent. Yet still he couldnae find a way, an’ felt his speerit spent
But noo, it chanced tae happen that, jist ootside the toon – the builder met an auld gray witch whose face was wrinkled broon
He sat beside her fire, an’ efter siller crossed her palm – he posed tae her his question, for now his mind was calm
“O witch, please tell me, in this life, will ever – if at a’ – I find a way tae hauld my lovely woodwork tae the wa’ ?
“Withoot this carry-oan that drives me daily roon the bend – o’ chippin’ wood and gougin’ holes – O, will it never end?”
The witch sat gazin’ in the fire, an’ drinkin’ oot a jug – Then suddenly, she screamed and moaned “I see it! – O! The Plug!
“It’s drawn frae jute fibes – twa’d make your skin tae crawl – it’s held thegither wae pigs blood – it’s stickin’ in the wa’!
“The hole it hammers intae exactly fits its girth – but the tool that fashioned that wee hole is not yet oan this earth
“So, Builder – in your lifetime, this thing is no’ tae be – it lies beyond your time an’ mine in another century …”
The builder left that eerie place and gret the hale way hame – for he felt as tho’ he were a pawn in some cruel cosmic game
He lived for years in misery, condemned to watch, in thrall – as a’ his lovely woodwork - fell oot the bluddy wall!
© Peter Curran 1974