Film & interview Emily Cussins
Filmmaker Emily Cussins documents industrial abseiler Guy Hayhow at work on The Shard
When I get to my workstation in the morning, it’s just like being anywhere else really. You’ve got a task set in front of you and it’s got to be done. Whether we’re high up or not doesn’t matter, you kind of forget about it when you’re there. You just get on with it. Some people have to do a bit of photocopying – I might have to put a big bit of glass in one of the tallest buildings in Europe!
I’m an industrial abseiler and I’ve been working on the shard of glass for about two and a half years. I was there to put the last piece of glass on Shard One… that was a bit of highlight. Generally speaking, standing at the top of the building, working at 310 metres, with a big piece of glass coming at you from the end of a crane is quite spectacular. There are lots of varied jobs to do up there. When we were putting the glass in, there were big glazing units coming over and I’d just grab them and slide them onto the building, onto the corresponding hooks that they hook onto on the façade.
I’ve had a lot of fun there. I see some good things, some crazy things. Working at night in the snow when it’s blowing a blizzard and someone’s chucking a big 3×2 metre glass panel at you – there’s snow everywhere – it’d be very pretty if I wasn’t at work. It’s a lovely view up there. You get to see some amazing things being above a massive metropolitan city like London. Away from the hustle and bustle you see people going about their daily lives without a care in the world. It’s very pretty at night… the lights of London, you can see for miles – Canary Wharf, the Thames Barrier, the London Eye, and all the other big skyscrapers I’ve worked on.
Everyone wants to know about dangerous or bad things that happen. It’s an inherently risk job, I’ll guarantee you that, but we try and minimise that risks and keep it safe. Obviously the big risk is dropping something because you’re working above the second busiest station in London: London Bridge. Everything that could possibly fall is tied on to you and your harness. You don’t want to drop something because it’ll cut someone in half – but that’s not going to happen, we’re very careful. We don’t want to be done for professional negligence now do we?
There’s a bit of gallows humour every now and then – ‘I wouldn’t get on those ropes, Old Fir tied them on’ – but it’s all in jest really, it’s all fun. Everyone knows that they can trust everybody else out there to tie their ropes on properly, and if something did go wrong, we’d go up, snatch them and get them down, hopefully without incident. I’ve never done it and hopefully I’ll never have to.
It rains a lot, and when there’s a storm imminent you can see big water funnels everywhere around London. Then, when it comes in, it hits you like a wall… There’s nothing in the way to stop the wind so you can get windy days when we have to escape off the face every now and then and zip down our ropes and hide in the garage. It’s a ‘canteen day’ that day – drink tea, wait for it to pass. I also like looking at the Peregrine Falcons. They zoom past you like a grey missile; they’re beautiful birds.Sunsets are really nice. When you’ve been working all night and the sun comes up – that’s good. We were working when the viewing platform opened. The viewing platform’s on 72th to 69th floor and we have to get out on 75 and work our way out onto the face, then you abseil past the public – they love that. For us it’s a bit of an annoyance… they’re just taking pictures doing the old ‘oooh, eeeeh’. It’s a bit of fun, a bit of glamour there.