I got to sleep at 1am and wake at 6am. At 7.30am I am on my bike and I arrive at The South Bank at 9am for a BBC television interview on top of The Royal Festival Hall. There are magnificent blue skies stretching above the houses of parlaiment and the whole of London. What a place to be. On the roof is a Beehive. Andrew Hinton is the person who established the Beehive on top of the Royal Festival Hall as part of his residency at The
South Bank with the band St Ettienne. He’s here too. It’s the beginning of spring and this is a light spring story. The beekeeper is the most lovely man. But the bees are not having it. The bees cause mayhem for the reporter
(The Beekepe, the tv presenter and I on the roof of the royal festival hall)
I read my poem for the bees and the beginning of spring then head off to the office. I do a
little admin and then bike to Holborn where I get the tube to Epping Forest to see, for the first time, the sculpture which will hold my poem in Fen Court, The City of London. The City of London Corporation has a lot of land in Epping forest. This is where the granite for the sculpture has been delivered having travelled from China. Seventeen granite sugar canes and one plinth, the creation of the sculptor.
It is a glorious day. We are in a summer heat wave. There’s a studious team of workers at the yard which includes the letter cutter, a man called Billie – Thirty six years a letter cutter. I spend some time with Billie. There are only a handful of hand letter cutters these days. The trade is in its death throws. He can tell, from an hundred metres, whether the lettering on a statue has been machined or hand cut. I asked Bill if he had trained anyone like the old apprentice days. He casts his eyes down. “Aye, one laddie, I trained a while ago”. I pursued. What did his trainee do now? Bill casts his eyes down again “computers” he said “If ahh’d ah known ah wuddnee wasted mah tiyme, y’know”. This was not just a training but an attempt to keep a dying trade, a piece of living Scottish history alive. The best granite in europe, if not the world, comes from Aberdeen.
There are representatives from The City of London Here, Claire Foster of Future City , The sculptor himself, myself, eight of us in total. The poem is called The Gilt of Cain. I shake hands with the man known and introduced as Billie. It was a thoughtful chat and I
wondered. He told me that whereas once the hand letter cutter would do all kinds of jobs, he was now relegated to a few graves for those who could afford the hand cutter. And with machines there’s wasn’t as much work in graves any more. This now is the end of his trade specially requested hand cut grave stones. He was one of the last. I wanted somehow to travel to scotland and document his work, like those who make dry stone walls, they were dying off. I shook hands to leave. His hands had a surface like the granite he was working on. I’d been calling him Billy as that is how he was introduced to me by the sculptor. “William Wallace” he said. Braveheart!? Your Joking I replied “No.” He replied “Willam Wallace. Braveheart”
William Wallace – the letter cutter.