Hamish's knife

Last week I went to Norfolk for a couple of days and made this knife.

To be honest, lots of it was done by Nick, the blacksmith who was showing me how to do it. But without his more than 40 years experience there was no way I was going to be able to make a useable knife in two days.


The process was thought provoking in lots of ways – about time, and practices – but in particular about the transmission of knowledge.

Transmission through objects; Nick spoke about forging hammers, tongs and anvils when he needed them (using other hammers, tongs and anvils) and I imagined a long line of tools stretching back in time to one stone tool that started it all before even humans.

And transmission through people.

Nick told me how the Roman Baths Museum in Bath had asked him to make a replica of Roman sacrificial knife based on two stone carvings. They sent him over some pictures and he noticed the handle was in a different position in each carving so he had to use his judgement to decide which one to use. And I imagined the carvings sitting patiently, holding their knowledge for thousands of years, while another form of – physical – knowledge was being passed along from blacksmith to blacksmith until the two bits of information met again in this knife.

bath knife

This reminded me of a chapter that I have come across twice recently by Rebecca Schneider called Performance Remains. She writes about the ability of an American civil war re-enactor to simulate a bloated corpse which “is for many enthusiasts, evidence of something that can touch the more distant historical record, if not evidence of something authentic in itself”. She continues, “remains do not have to be isolated to the document, to the object, to bone versus flesh….the body becomes a kind of archive and host to a collective memory…”

I awkwardly tried saying something to this effect to Nick but it doesn’t seem like a big deal to him.

I was also thinking about the transmission of knowledge while back in London this week.

If you get the Overground from Crystal Palace towards Highbury and Islington you can change at Canada Water for the Jubilee Line. This involves taking an escalator down one level to the Jubilee platforms.


The trouble is that nearly every time I make this interchange, the escalator gets clogged up with people standing on both the left and the right hand side, in a way that I’ve not really experienced elsewhere on the tube.

It starts okay – people rush off the Overground onto the escalator.

And at first everyone is walking down. These are normally the people most in a rush.

Then after ten seconds or so people start to stand on the right.

But before long everyone is standing.

And at the top the inflow is all clogged up.

Here is is from another angle.

It starts off with everyone walking.

Then people start to stand on the right.

But eventually everyone is standing.

Eventually the flow peters out and then there is no body

I think about this a lot.

I think part of the reason is that when people spill out into the Jubilee platforms they accumulate there while they wait for their train. They don’t have tunnels to channel them onwards and some wait near at the doors by the bottom of the escalator. There is also a map of the line at the bottom that acts as a physical barrier and an informative distraction.

But I also think it’s because there isn’t a continuous flow of people. Instead passengers come in surges every three of four minutes but in between there is nobody. So although most people know to walk on the left, this behaviour isn’t being passed in the continuous way it is on other escalators.

Without this human transmission, Transport for London have taken to erecting a sign at the top of the escalator telling people to walk on the left and stand on the right (although this wasn’t there when I took these images).

But this kind of sign, like any written score for movement, is really the exception to how movement is learnt and choreographies are transmitted. Which is person to person.