"Waiting for Bill"
Nearly two months ago, my friend Jon and I went down to see Bill Drummond’s exhibition in Birmingham and sought out his graffito under Spaghetti Junction. I wrote about it in a Tumblr post here.
Somewhere - possibly on Bill’s website, maybe at the exhibition itself - I saw a note encouraging people to send in photos of any of Bill’s graffiti they saw, so I sent in my photo and also a link to my blog. I didn’t hear anything back and that was fine; I didn’t expect to. I was happy just to take part.
And then, last Friday, I received a reply to my email: “And I think I will be back there this coming Wednesday at some point”.
I was quite taken aback by this response, presumably (and excitingly) from Bill. So I wrote back: “At the exhibition or the canal? Is there something happening?”
“I will be doing my next layer under Spaghetti Junction. But it is not a public performance. I am just passing through Birmingham on the M6 as I drive from [somewhere in Scotland] to London. Thus no fixed time.”
“If you don’t mind a small audience, I’ll bring a book and a picnic, and hang around to see if I can catch you in action.”
There was no reply to my last email.
I had a ponder.
I sent Jon a text to see if he wanted to come to Birmingham for the day. He did! But he couldn’t :-(
On Saturday, I mentioned it to Dan and Abi, who, it transpired, were both interested and keen to come along. It turned out that, characteristically, the Minx was enthusiastic about it, too. Hurrah! All we needed now was a plan.
I figured it was going to take Bill just over five hours to get to Birmingham. If he was an early riser, that meant he’d be there around eleven. If he decided to leave after a late breakfast, it would be more like four o’clock. So we aimed to get there around midday on the basis that an early-rising Bill would still be there and busy.
So, just before twelve o’clock, we arrived in Birmingham, got out of the car, gathered up our picnic things and headed down to the canal, beneath spaghetti junction. It was immediately apparent that someone had already covered over Bill’s posters with a new phrase, “Let your lone ranger ride”. Hm… Had Bill beaten us here? I’d assumed his next layer would be posters but could this be it? It didn’t seem very Bill? But then, my inability to predict or second guess Bill is a significant component of why I admire him so much.
After some (mildly) hazardous manoeuvring, I managed to cross the canal and make my way along to the exhibit. The paint was completely dry: it hadn’t been done today. Here is a picture of me that the Minx took at the scene and here is one I took of the dead flowers in jars on the ground in front of it.
Thus, (sort of) reassured that we hadn’t missed Bill, we went on to set up our picnic. And then we waited for Bill. While we waited, we read our books, did some drawing, had a couple of walks up and down the canal and, between the four of us, made a small artwork for Bill.
I have to say I enjoyed every moment. It was so relaxing, sat there in our odd little picnic spot, grazing on our lunch as bemused cyclists, pedestrians and even a boat went past. Eventually, though, we required some facilities that this unorthodox spot did not provide and, just after four o’clock, we struck camp and headed back to the car.
Am I disappointed that we didn’t see Bill? Well, yes and no. We went there to see him, of course, not least because of the oblique and possibly misinterpreted invitation to see him at work. But I’m not mad on meeting my heroes; a handshake will do me, which would have been tricky across the canal. Meeting Bill could - as my daughter, Izzy, would say - have been “bare awks”.
But I’m grateful for the situation that Bill created. We had a lovely day, the stuff of memories.