1950 – , Local Government Part 2

WHAT GOES ON BENEATH OUR FEETGoing up pipes, down manholes, through tunnels and into dark dank corners, beneath the sea, beneath the earth, deep or shallow, in compressed air or in sludge, was ever the lot of the inspection engineer. Fear of being faced by a mother rat the size of a cat, protecting her brood, was always something I was paranoid about, but as the show must go on, there was no use thinking about it.A friend and colleague, had thoughtfully put down a length of steel pipe where a flyover was to be built, well in advance of the work, just in case the long planned, but often shelved scheme for the sewage works and attendant pipeline ever came to life, which it did under my hand. By this time the flyover had been operating for some ten years.
I had to find out whether the pipe was still viable, that meant seeing for myself. Holes were opened to air the pipe, a trolley was made so I could push my way up as arthritis and height made the procedure more difficult and off I set on my solitary journey, tied to a safety line, in total darkness, illuminated only by a hand-held inspection lamp and anticipating the red eyes of Mama Rat facing me like the headlights of a car. Of course there was no rat, I hadn’t really expected there would be, it didn’t make sense, there was no food, well not right inside the pipe, why would she choose to live in a big wide steel pipe? – nice and cosy, with room to manoeuvre, room to escape danger? – Ah! – Just a thought!
Years later I wrote a piece based upon another experience when I really did think I might drown, when the stanks holding back the city’s water eased with a frightening groan, although the writing is more dramatic than the experience. I wrote it in honour of those unsung heroes who risk their health and their lives beneath our feet, people we give little or no thought to, who spend hours in the fetid smell of the sewers, a place I learned to know well. Some even die there, overcome by the gas. I worked with a bricklayer when this near disaster happened and since then safety measures have been extended and tightened.

Categorized as General

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