Sewer Voyeur

We’d been stooping down a branch sewer for fifteen minutes. Our bodies were complaining almost as much as our sense of salubrity, it was very apparent that our chosen access route was rather less sanitary than we’d hoped for (or more sanitary, depending how you care to look at it). Bespattered toilet-bowl-maché, which had plainly been ejected with some rapidity, decorated the opposing walls of small gauge household sewers. These domestic detritus cannons adjoined our bricky conduit at about head height, making the probability of a face full of toilet matter a mere flush away. This was not fun. As we reached the branch sewer’s junction with the trunk, being at the head of our single file trio, I was presented with another opportunity to play Puddleglum. Unfortunately we stood in a pipe located approx four foot above the invert of the trunk sewer; a pipe whose green-grey waters were being belched forth in a wide lumpy spray. Decades of defecation had rendered the obvious route down more slippery than Dupont’s finest and an impromptu homage to Father Karras was not on the cards. We eventually worked our route down via broadband ducting and much sideways scuttling.

This was only the second occasion that myself and st00p had entered one of London’s combined trunk sewers, and it was the first occasion for our Australian compadre Siologen. So there we were, stood within the confines of London’s most notorious sewer, the Fleet, all feeling decidedly underwhelmed. Sure it was a huge brick tunnel and we’d lucked out to hit the main pipe just after an intercepting weir (which meant very little flow, other than that spewing from our access route) but this couldn’t be the ‘River’ Fleet? This place bore absolutely no likeness to the glorious sparkling waterway of our imaginings. Alas, we’d been more than a little naive. By now the whole ordeal had been comparable in disappointment to my chagrin at Kellogg’s decision to withdraw Cinnamon Pop Tarts from the UK breakfast market. Any how, even in our disgruntled states we weren’t so deflated as to pass up the chance to explore our immediate surrounds. A quick flash of the torches downstream revealed infinite tunnel, while immediately upstream was the afore mentioned intercepting weir.

Taking a look at the weir, there was no doubt that venturing upstream of this point was not an option. The flow beyond it was ferocious; a swirling, bubbling, choppy poop soup of unknown depth and unfathomable raging force. Battling our collective misery I had mustered the enthusiasm to take my camera from its bag when st00p got my attention by way of a sharp dig in the ribs. I swiftly pulled my gaze from the bag and on to him, to see his squinting face recoil at the blinding light from my headtorch. Diverting the torch light I looked back to see st00p had already moved away from me and was furiously gesturing upstream, but saying nothing at all. “Wh . . .?“, I had barely spoken half a word when I too was struck silent at the sight that had prompted st00p’s bruise inducing intercostal poke. Way off up the tunnel, being washed by the tumultuous waters, was an almost ninety degree bend, now visible where before there had been nothing but darkness. The light from what appeared to be several super luminous sources was bouncing off the walls, almost dissipating the heavy vaporous air as the beams danced erratically side to side, occasionally catching the crests of the unforgiving flow.

Someone was coming our way! Whoever it was hadn’t yet rounded the corner, we glanced at each other and scrambled for the broadband ducting, clumsily we dragged ourselves back up into the side pipe with ten times the haste by which we’d descended. Turning off our lights we crouched, with hearts thumping, and waited for whoever it was to make the corner. I took a sneaky glance back up the main tunnel. The glare of the approaching lights made it impossible to see anything beyond them, but they were round the corner and heading our way! We’d never encountered sewer workers before, I couldn’t imagine that it could have been anyone else. For one thing how the hell were they traversing the flow beyond the weir, other than with the aid of specialised equipment? Perhaps some sort of mechanised transport? All sorts of fanciful notions ran through my head. And those lights, super bright white (light), cutting endless beams through the darkness, superior to anything we were packing. Mere seconds had passed as my thoughts raced when came a sharp hissing whisper in my ear, as urgent as a whisper can be, the unmistakable antipodean tones of Siologen, “JD! JD! Who is it? What did you see?“.

I couldn’t see anything past the lights“, I whispered back into the darkness, “but we need to get out of sight. They’re still coming this way.” Feeling the walls, we headed back thirty yards or so to a bend, I’ve never been quite so happy that I remembered the latex gloves! A quick flash of the torch confirmed that we weren’t in the line of fire of a projectile sewer and we settled in to silently wait for the workers to pass. Our new location was out of view of the main tunnel but offered the option of a glance around the bend should we need it. We were confident that our voices couldn’t be heard over the noise of the outfalling branch sewer, so while I watched the dimly glistening brickwork get ever brighter, st00p and Siologen thrashed out the pros and cons of various plans of action. For a moment there was calm, as if within the course of only fifty seconds a routine had been established, distracting us from our circumstances. However, as quickly as the calm had settled it was broken by the sound of muffled voices. Our hearts almost stopped and we fell silent, realising that if we could hear them then perhaps they had heard us? Their conversation was indistinguishable above the crashing water, but at times it almost sounded like congratulatory whooping and cheering. Whatever the case, these were definitely the voices of a number of men, and men who seemed very well at ease with their surroundings.

Must be Thames Water.” I whispered, hoping someone’s ear was in the vicinity. For as much as I dared not give us away, I had to take a look. Now, there’s not really an effective method of peering out from a corner. Sure you can do it very slowly to avoid drawing attention with any sudden movement, but essentially you’re sticking your head out there to be seen. With this in mind I thought ‘what the hey’ and popped my head out, and it was at this point that Pascal decided to call in our previous good fortune at having avoided faces full of bowl fresh feculence. I find it best suits the scene that followed to recollect it in super slow motion, accompanied by Bach’s Air on a G string. My head emerges from the bend just as one of the workers turned in perfect synchronicity and shone his light up the branch sewer and on to my pasty white face which, much like st00p’s only minutes earlier, recoiled with eyes squinting from temporary blindness. Of course the entire incident played out within a fraction of a second and no sooner had my head been stuck out there like a lighthouse lamp than I was back out of sight, crouched with the other two. The damage was done though, probability had its pound of flesh; I absolutely must have been seen! We each held our breath, frozen to the spot, waiting for the sound of splashing footsteps heading our way, not wanting to start our frantic stooping race to the exit until there was no doubt that we had been detected.

We waited, chests tightening for fear that our combined exhalation would be sufficient a sound to draw attention to us, but the footsteps never came. Not only that, but the little ambient light there had been from the workers torches had all but vanished, and we could barely hear the mumbles of their boisterous conversation. They were leaving!? Stupefied we all looked out from our hiding spot, they really were leaving! This was ridiculous, I felt certain that I’d been seen, yet there they were leaving. We shuffled gingerly back to the main tunnel and spied out, downstream. Previously their lights had hindered me from getting any sight of them, but now the opposite was the case as we watched three silhouetted workers heading off, looking decidedly Close Encounters-esq.

Common sense would have had us count ourselves more than fortunate at this juncture and propose that we depart the scene, bemused, but somehow undiscovered. Common sense however seemed to be about as present as the sparkling waters of the buried river Fleet and thus we decided to wait it out, to see the workers out of sight. We didn’t have to wait long. Still in view, they had halted mid tunnel and we watched as one by one they stepped out of sight, not at all as we’d expected. We’d been holding our tongues for nigh on ten minutes now and this further unforeseen event broke the self imposed hush. “Where’d they go?” Siologen asked in a low voice, “They must have gone up a side tunnel, or a manhole.” replied st00p. We knew though that there were no manholes giving access into this section of tunnel, we’d checked thoroughly, so they must have set off up a side tunnel. If the days events had been bordering on ridiculous they rapidly descended in to lunacy as st00p, impetuous as he is, decided he had to see where they had headed.

Before either of us could argue against the idea, st00p was in the main tunnel, torch on, heading downstream. One thing’s for sure, playing C-3PO to st00p’s R2 is never dull; we weren’t about to let him run in to workers alone and for all our efforts to remain undetected we clambered down and joined him, marching down the tunnel, expecting the worst. I recalled, as we walked, the fact that these workers had somehow traversed the impassable water beyond the weir. They hadn’t appeared to have any equipment beyond that which was about their person, so how had they managed such a task? I am Jack’s utter sense of bewilderment! We walked on.

Walking along, your mind tends to wander. I often get a sense of being out of time; that which governs life aboveground is rendered obsolete in an environment where it is neither night nor day. It’s not so much that you lose track of time as it is a sensation of losing it entirely; consequently as we neared upon the side pipe, much sooner than anticipated, we weren’t at all surprised. Closer inspection of the workers’ exit point revealed that it wasn’t a side pipe at all, rather an access passageway. We’d been so certain that there wasn’t any manhole access into this stretch of tunnel, we’d checked aboveground, how could we have missed that? Yet another incident that highlighted their knowledge over ours.

The passageway’s junction with the main tunnel formed an arc from crown to invert. Edged with blue bricks, it was washed with a soft sulfurous glow, casting an oblong window of similarly orangey light on to the opposite tunnel wall. We were again close enough to hear the mumbles of conversation, closer even as we could almost pick out words now. Having turned out or lights we paused, a little apprehensive; bathed in the tangerine glow we each looked to the other, acknowledging the fact that we were no doubt about to get busted. In all but the same steps as we had watched taken minutes earlier, we too stepped into the passageway, just in time to see the last of the workers deftly climbing the ten foot ladder up to an open manhole. A wide grin crept across my face, the guy was on the ladder with his back to us, street light was flooding down, as he climbed up to join his colleagues, completely unaware of our presence behind him. Voyeurism is not on my list of favoured pastimes, but it was an oddly satisfying encounter.

The cold night air was being drawn into the passageway via the open manhole and we stood goose bumped and galvanised just feet from discovery. The cover also allowed the noise of life aboveground to reach our ears, mostly traffic, which amalgamated with the sounds of crashing water and made it more difficult still to hear any conversation. Considering the trip we’d had, we wagered there was really no way on, or under, earth that Lady Luck was about to see us get apprehended and so we took a few steps closer to the manhole in the hope of a little audible clarity. For the first time we were now close enough to properly hear, but, as if subconsciously aware of our eavesdropping, noone was talking. BANG! From nowhere a hefty looking industrial wader kicked the open cover, as a pair of disposable gloves were thrown back down the shaft. We took care to stay from view, and observed as each kick to the unyielding cover only inched it closed. Every blow unleashed a great creaking yelp, as if kicking a cowering dog, as metal grated on metal. And with every blow our permatan glow was diminished a little more. There we were, stood within the confines of London’s most notorious sewer, the Fleet, grinning inanely, all feeling decidedly overwhelmed. The last vestiges of street light were about to be banished from the passageway when there came a shout from above, a voice with an unmistakable antipodean tone “JD!! You shoulda made ‘im close the farkin’ cover, he never closes ‘em, lazy barrstard.

PHWUMP!!

Darkness.

Share

Comments

4 Responses to “Sewer Voyeur”
  1. impressed bystander says:

    Great stuff.So descriptively written,I could have been there myself.
    I stumbled on this site by way of 28DL, you’ve provided me with a great afternoons entertainment. Many Thanks!

  2. Another Bystander says:

    It really was a great tale. As my predecessor said, it was skillfully written and a pleasure to read it. And the ending? Fantastic. I eagerly await the next one.

  3. Stupid Idiot says:

    Ok, I loved loved loved the whole story, but I didn’t get the ending! Who was it? Who said “JD!! You shoulda made ‘im close the farkin’ cover, he never closes ‘em, lazy barrstard”

    ¿

    Sorry, I’m just slow, I guess.

Leave A Comment

Metropolitan Board of Works