Caught by the River

Conversations From Land’s End To John o’Groats

Cally Callomon | 17th January 2019

Nick Hand’s Conversations From Land’s End To John o’Groats is a document of the 1200-mile cycle he undertook to visit artists around the country with his portable printing press. Cally Callomon reviews.

Nick Hand is a careful man – careful with words and full of care when it comes to their presentation. As I bash out these words on a digital keyboard with cuts and pastes and spellchecks, using but two fingers and a whole heap of electricity, Nick’s world is one of wooden blocks of type, lead type, sticky aromatic inks, absorbent card, and miles of miles and miles of cycling.

Many years ago I was handed a VHS tape containing a documentary made in the early 1980s by Yorkshire TV, of an ex-merchant sailor who found life too hard back on shore, and so took to the roads on his bicycle. With a grindstone mounted across the bars, he sharpened shears and knives across England for customers who welcomed him with a cheer and cash, his route as regulated as any big steamer. He brewed up in the hedge and slept in a tent, and his great treat was a half pint of mild in the local at lunchtime or many spoons of sugar in his tea.

The film exists in a land beyond Google, and I have never traced the director, cameraman or anyone involved with this film (a rare thing these days), so I digitised it and screened it at a Cycling Festival in Bristol. Nick Hand was paying attention and promptly invented The Printing Bike, a mobile Adana Printing Press mounted on the back of a custom-built bicycle.

Nick proceeded to pedal and print his way across Europe and, last year, from Land’s End to John o’Groats. On the journey (the old use of that word) he stopped off with various artists (not creatives, please) and recorded their worlds in words and photographs. Nick steers clear of the clichés that come with ‘Maker’ or ‘Artisan’, both of which now may suggest that such folk are trust-fund hobbyists. As with his cycling and printing, these are people dedicated and enthusiastic about their trade. They are not ‘passionate’ either (that being a fleeting thing) and this quiet confidence comes out from their conversations, faithfully set out in this handy pocket-volume.

Here we meet tailors, saddlers, potters, shearsmiths, brewers, weavers and cobblers, most of which became surnames over time; perhaps the true mark of an authentic manufacturer. Will we adopt Artisan, Activist, Disruptor, Maker, Hedge Funder, or Hipster as surnames in the future? Who can tell. (no question mark needed).

Nick cycled well over 1,200 miles, and at each location his host designed a postcard which Hand then printed on the bike press.

“Without exception, the workshops and factories were places where ordered tools and ancient machines are put to use, as they have been for centuries, to make the things that we use in our homes and workplaces. They are made to such quality that they are often the things that our children will also treasure in the future. Celebrating these crafts of our little island is such an important thing.” says Nick.

Nick Hand is a journeyman in the proper sense, an apprentice turned professional who mixes skill with talent, who learns his trade and passes it on to others, often in the shape of books as inspiring as this (and in his previous adventures) plus: it’s printed in Wales.

Conversations From Land’s End To John o’Groats, by Nick Hand, is published by The Department Of Small Works (140 x  173mm, 72 pages, Hardback, cloth-bound, colour throughout with dust-wrapper. Printed on paper accredited by The Forest Stewardship Council.) It is available here in the Caught by the River shop, priced £16.00.