The Master Cutler

The Master Cutler leaves Sheffield at some god unearthly hour. It’s a train I rarely catch, and only on those occasions when I need to be in London early.

Waking up at 4am, getting dressed and ready in some sort of semi-comatosed state is not my idea of fun. One tends to work on autopilot, hoping everything is where one has left it the night before.

Leaving the house feels slightly surreal. In the City there is always someone about, doing something, the city never sleeps. Except on Christmas day when you can walk across London Bridge and feel as though you are an extra in 28 days later. Hoping and praying the zombies have stayed at home to open their presents.

Sheffield is very different. At this hour you are lucky to see anyone. With the decline of the milk round few have to start work this early.

In winter it is pitch black, in summer the first rays of dawn are breaking through the haze. No matter what time of year it is there always seems to be a chill in the air.

I know that when I reach the station it will be practically deserted. The food stalls wont be open. No smell of freshly brewed coffee, very little sign of life apart from the few who are resigned in catching the early train. Making their way to the platform, shuffling like the un-dead, to board the train and get some more shut eye.

To get to the station I cut round the back by Hills Bros, a now deserted building falling in to disrepair. It used to be a silversmiths. I often went there to buy lustre and rouge, polishing compounds, but no longer. Plants are gradually taking over and the roof is beginning to fall in.

On reaching the back of the building I usually see my first signs of life. A couple of men hanging around by a large roller door, smoking on their break. Making their cigarettes last as long as possible.

On a chilly morning I look forward to this part of my journey. I know that when I pass by I will get a blast of warm air. I’ll turn and look into the building where they work and see a sight that always makes me smile.

In the darkness, and if one arrives just at the right time you’ll see rows and rows of freshly cast ingots. Glowing red hot in the blackness of the foundry. I have no idea what they are for, or what metal it may be, I assume it is aluminium.

In a world where most of us seem to spend hours looking at computer screens in a sterile office environment it’s nice to see the grime, smell the acrid fumes, feel the heat of industry. It’s not a job I’d want to do. It’s hot grimy work. Your clothes and skin constantly engrained with dirt. But once in a while it’s nice to get a reality check. Be reminded that there is industry out there producing things, just not in the same world that most of us frequent.

Then it’s on the station, board the train with the rest of the un-dead. I’ll settle back in my seat, coat drawn around me for extra warmth. Sleep, before hitting London. As I drift off, a smile will spread across my face with the knowledge, that in this city, at some ungodly hour, men are busy smelting metal, working in the darkness, making things. It’s a world that those still at home in their slumber will never see.


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