Flusher’s Song

Words by: Dave Boulton Music by: Jeff Parton

I saw a documentary about the fat flushers. I was gob smacked that anyone needed to do their job and gob smacked at what their job was day to day. I couldn’t reist writing an anthem in praise of their vital activities. 

See below for some background notes

I’ll sing of the flushers, a rare breed of hero
Our deeds never feature in poems or song
Cause we spend our lives down in the bowels of your town
Making sure that your sewage stays where it belongs
Where it belongs
Making sure that your sewage stays where it belongs

You could live out your life never know we existed
We’re not in the papers or heard on the news
But we’re down in the tunnels and up to the gunnels
In slurry and slime and the slippery ooze

It isn’t a job for the tender or squeamish
The stench it could make a good Christian man curse
But compared with the steelmen, the colliers or seamen
I think on the whole we could do a lot worse

We don’t feel the wind and the rain in our faces
And down in the tunnels the sun never shines
But the atmosphere’s regal, more like a cathedral
Than down in the dank desp’rate dark of the mines

In the quiet and the darkness a man can think clearly
Reflect on creation, but it’s hard to explain
To those pushing papers up in the skyscrapers
You’re nearer to heaven way down in the drain

We’re not much to look at, we don’t smell of roses
Folks turns up their noses, not thinking at all
If they get a stoppage, a seepage or blockage
They’re glad to have flushers at their beck and call

Some background notes

Environment Minister Elliot Morley paid an unusual visit to London’s sewers on Wednesday 24 March. At the invitation of Thames Water, Mr Morley was taken below Knightsbridge to see how the capital’s spectacular 1,300-mile network of Victorian brick sewer tunnels and cathedral-like chambers is coping with the pressures of modern-day life in the city.

The London sewer system was founded by Sir Joseph Bazalgette, following ‘The Great Stink’ of 1858, when the stench of sewage discharged to the Thames forced Parliament to rise.

Sir Joseph used 318 million bricks to create an underground grid transferring London’s sewage to the east of the city, where it is now processed and turned into electricity at two

During his trip Mr Morley met sewer workers, known as ‘flushers’, who highlighted the problems caused by customers flushing non-biodegradable waste down the drains.

Cotton buds, sanitary towels, condoms, razor blades and even ladies tights are among the modern consumer products deluging the sewers on a scale unimaginable in Bazalgette’s day.

To avoid blockages, which risk untreated sewage polluting rivers and streams, Thames Water asks customers disposing of such waste to ‘Bag It and Bin It’.

Beneath your feet – London below ground

Unlike most other major cities, London has a ‘combined’ sewer system, accommodating both water flushed away from homes and rainfall running down roadside drains.

Thames Water serves over 13 million customers in London and the Thames Valley. The company is responsible for 67,000 km of sewers – enough, if laid end to end, to stretch more than one and a half times round the world. The company operates 350 sewage treatment works, treating more than 4,200 million litres of sewage every day.

Since 1989 Thames Water has invested more than £1 billion to improve treatment standards, helping transform the Thames into the cleanest metropolitan river in the world. Devoid of life only 30 years ago, the river is now home to 121 species of fish, including salmon, bass and flounder. Otters have also returned to the river.

Unusual items found in London’s sewers include ducks, eels, frogs, a wheelbarrow, motorbikes, a bed and a live hand grenade.

The 100 tonnes of cooking fat poured down Thames Water’s sewer network each year quickly solidifies and has to be removed, often by hand, at an annual cost of £7 million. The high concentration of food outlets makes Soho a particular problem area – it once it took the flushers eight weeks to remove a solid 150-foot slug of fat beneath Leicester Square.

A bust of Sir Joseph Bazalgette, one of London’s forgotten heroes, is situated on the Embankment (near Hungerford Bridge).

Getting down and dirty with the ‘flushers’

Published Date: 29 August 2007
BBC Two, Monday

“London: home to more than seven million people, producing over 2,800 million litres of waste every day. One flush and just like magic it disappears, out of sight and out of mind, but hidden beneath our streets is a subterranean wonderland where all our sewage ends up. This is the world of the flushers.”

These were the opening lines of a new BBC documentary which explored the lives of the Thames Water trunk sewer inspectors – popularly known as the “flushers”. The programme was filmed over the course of a year in the capital’s underworld, and focused on the fortunes of five of the men who keep the faeces flowing.

The film, directed by David Clews and narrated by real-life East Ender Derek O’Connell, a 59-year-old sewage treatment technician, followed the flushers at work, at play, at home and on site, with many laughs, some tears and a flood of fat, oil, grease and carelessly disposed off sanitary products along the way.

It was difficult enough just watching 60-year-old sewer supervisor Kenny Young and his band of shovelling madmen getting down and dirty in the drains. But what was most surprising was the relish with which they attacked their duties.

It’s a filthy job but these guys love to do it. Kudos!

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