On my arse in sewage – one of the best jobs I ever had
Strangely the two best jobs I’ve ever had, apart from teaching, are road sweeping and sewage work.
Road sweeping was great because I had plenty of time and the company was good too. I could get in late and leave early, scoot round at triple speed and get the job done and the other council workers were a hotbed of revolution and dissent. We spent extended breaks arguing about the world, politics and the social order. It was fab.
But working with sewage was my kind of job (once you got used to the smell).
This bit is worth persevering with. You may find it amusing.
To start with we did not begin operations until ten o’ clock. I could come in late, grab a brew, sit and read, natter and kick back. The work came in bursts.
My first task was to check the grills coming in from the sewers. I had a big grappling hook and I had to clear anything caught up in the grill. All the toilets, sinks and drains emptied into the sewer and came out as a huge pipe with a grill over the opening. It was usually rags that were caught up. The boss told me that they had once removed an armchair and a dead horse. I don’t think he was kidding. You wonder how they ever got into the sewer system.
After that it was reading time.
Then it was clearing the apertures on the revolving arms of the clinker beds. The raw sewage was sprayed over the clinker. Inside the beds lived millions of larvae which fed on the organic material thus removing it from the sewage. The holes in the revolving arms blocked up (usually with condoms) and had to be cleared. I had a little hooked instrument for that job.
The sewage then ran into settling beds that resembled huge swimming pools. All the solids settled to the bottom. Twice a week these had to be emptied.
This was fun.
First all the water was pumped out of the settling beds. This left about six feet of liquid sludge.
Then the sludge was pumped out on to sludge beds.
Then came the interesting bit. Someone had to climb twenty feet down to the bottom of the settling tank with a squeegee board and push the remainder of the sludge into the central channel to be pumped out. This sludge was like smelly liquid mud a good foot deep.
As I was the young kid I was the one to do it. With squeegee in hand I set off down the ladder. I was equipped with waders. It was easy.
However, when I reached six feet from the bottom I encountered the problem. The ladder was coated in a good inch of sludge.
You could not walk down and not get coated.
It left you with two options. You could try to go down the ladder without using your hands and risk falling off or you could jump and risk slipping over.
I tried it both ways. Firstly I tried going down without using hands, nearly fell off and had to grab hold quickly. I didn’t like that. So next time I jumped. Firstly the liquid shit splashed out in a slow motion splash and came back at you and secondly your feet skidded away and you went backwards with a loud plop. The waders were not sufficient.
After that I just went down and held on. I figured I was going to get covered so best to get on with it.
Once there it took an hour shoving the sludge into the channel. It was quite relaxing.
No matter how much I washed and showered I could not seem to eliminate the aroma. I got through a ton of after-shave.
The best thing about the job was that I always seemed to be able to find a seat on the bus going home.