A cover story

“What on earth is that place?”

“What must my job be?!”

“I hope I get paid a lot for doing that!”

“Where is that anyway?”

Some of the more sensible questions I have often posed that my 13/14 year old self might have asked had I somehow had the opportunity to view third person video snippets (sans sound) of my current draining excursions, some twenty years prior. The scenes I imagine would prompt the most questions tend to be instances of entering/exiting manholes, particularly in obscure surrounds that my teenage counterpart wouldn’t be familiar with. I found myself running through these same imaginings just recently.

With both feet placed firmly on the same ladder rung, knees bent and my back jammed against the opposite wall, I was in position under a corroded manhole cover which looked as if it hadn’t moved for decades. Straightening up a little, a trial push delivered some movement and I shouted down to confirm that this would be our exit. I knew the approximate location at which we’d be re-joining London’s aboveground populous and we were credibly attired so there was no significant concern. A concerted effort to open the cover dislodged a cascade of ferrous metal pieces, many of which found their way down the back of my shirt and on to my clammy back, where they took up residence. Passing the point at which the cover needed any further assistance it dropped backwards on its hinges and I proceeded to climb the last few rungs of the ladder.

Hopping out of the shaft and on to the grass in a bustling public park, we were surrounded by picnicking families and sunbathing couples, while a whole host of sports and games went on about us; it’s usual to expect a few heads to turn when a filthy, sweaty workman unexpectedly appears from a manhole cover that nobody had even noticed previously. While I stood atop the open cover Metawaffle swiftly ascended the ladder into the glorious early evening sun. The presence of two filthy, sweaty workmen had now increased the head count of curious onlookers. A deft foot to the cover saw it slam shut, momentarily turning a further few heads, and we walked casually into the multitudes, quietly discussing our past few hours of underground adventuring.

For those who still looked on, as we disappeared from sight, our unexpected exit most likely raised questions comparable to those of my future gazing teen self, as we all viewed the semblance of a life to which we immediately attributed our own context.


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Metropolitan Board of Works