I write these two pieces to draw attention to those men working underground, in risky and filthy conditions, who are taken too much for granted. The 2nd, a story I wrote, on an occasion when I really did think I might drown, when the stanks – timber boards – holding the city’s water eased with a frightening groan, and I saw the waters rising.
Under Ground Going up pipes, down manholes, through tunnels, into dark dank corners, beneath the sea, beneath roads and ground, deep or shallow, in compressed air or in sludge and sewage, was ever the lot of the inspection engineer, and those who worked there. Fear of being faced by a cat-sized mother rat protecting her brood, was always something I was paranoid about, but there was no alternative. A steel pipe had been laid, anticipating the long planned, often shelved scheme for the sewage works before the flyover was built. Intending to extend the pipe, I had to find out for myself whether the pipe was still viable after ten years. 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. Off I set, on my solitary journey, tied to a safety line, in total darkness illuminated by a hand-torch, anticipating the red eyes of Mama Rat facing me like the headlights of a car. 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. A Bricklayer I worked with was badly burned by steam in a sewer when the steam exhaust, from a reciprocating steam engine, was leaked by mistake into the sewer.