Tuesday 24 May 2016

Task 11: Descend into the sewers of Brighton

Back in October I described my attempts to pay a visit to a non-Western toilet whilst on holiday in Goa (thanks again for that suggestion Lucy Hunot!!), for the purposes of completing Task 11.  Seven months later, the time had come to confront my sewerage-related fears once again with a visit to Brighton Sewers, the pride and joy of Southern Water. The sewers' construction dates back to the 1860s and they're a feat of Victorian engineering. Southern Water organises tours of the sewers from May to September every year and they're hugely popular with the general populus of Sussex. 

I should just mention that this task almost didn't happen. I had arranged to do the tour in August last year. And then things went horribly wrong. The weather in Sussex had been truly awful all summer, with endless rain showers, thunderstorms and localised flooding. Finally the Brighton sewers could take it no longer. After yet another flash flood, they imploded (don't even go there), causing major structural damage. Tours were cancelled for the rest of the season. Task 11 was put to one side and I had to keep my fingers tightly crossed that the sewers would re-open before the end of May this year.  If all else failed, Plan B was to visit the sewers of London instead, but I really hoped I wouldn't have to resort to that. After all, if I've got to be confronted by sewage, it might as well be locally sourced sewage.

Two months ago Southern Water announced that they would be re-opening the Brighton sewers to the public in May, 'Hurrah!' I thought. I paused for a moment to celebrate my positive attitude and then booked places on a tour in double quick time. Our friends Judi and Howard were keen - yes, keen - to come with us. Judi featured in my Task 12 blog as my non-Western toilet advisor - as the CEO of a charity that supports projects in developing countries, she's very knowledgeable about many aspects of water-related functionality. Which made her an especially fine companion for Task 11.

Judi, Howard, Andrew and I convened with a group of 20 other people at the entrance to the Sewers near Brighton Pier last Tuesday evening, dressed in sensible shoes and comfortable clothing. A team of guides ushered us to the newly restored lecture room and gave us all hard hats and protective gloves. Could we detect a certain aroma swirling around us?  Do you know, we couldn't really. And it was nice and warm too. I began to calm down. 

After a brief introduction, including key messages about what we shouldn't be flushing down loos and pouring down sinks, we were divided into two groups.  'By the way' said our guide, as we started heading towards the first tunnel, 'Don't be surprised if you see a rat or two along the way'. Judi's eyes widened. 'I don't like rats' she said. 'Oh and if anyone has problems with claustrophobia, let me know,' added the guide. Howard gulped.  'I'm not keen on being in enclosed spaces....' he muttered. Then Andrew confessed that he was on high alert for cobwebs and spiders. And it's no secret that I was having to steel myself for the sight of raw sewage products. Despite this cornucopia of fears, the four of us bravely headed off into the darkness.  

For the next 45 minutes we followed our enthusiastic and well-informed guides through a myriad of spooky but surprisingly clean (phew) and relatively reek-free (phew again) tunnels......

.....over channels and grids bearing liquids of various colours and densities.....

.....and into large echoey caverns showing off Victorian brickwork at its best.....

......until finally we emerged, blinking, into the evening air.


The narrow passageways and tunnels didn't faze Howard at all. ...we didn't see a single rat or spider.....and very little, ahem, solid sewage. I think I may have even turned a corner - or a U-bend - in this particular phobic tendency of mine.

We went to Jamie's Italian for supper to celebrate. Diners began to sniff the air as we arrived and the restaurant suddenly emptied. I'm joking. But I did have a long hot shower when we got home. My thanks to Judi and Howard for being brilliant and brave buddies down the Brighton sewers. And well done Southern Water for getting the sewers back on track so quickly.  Now remember dear reader - no flushing wet wipes and dental floss down the loo. And try and avoid washing away left-over sauces, milk and yoghurt down the sink. I've seen the end result......!



A total of 55 tasks completed -JUST 5 MORE TO GO - 8 days left.........!!

So far donations to Shooting Star Chase total £960 (that's in addition to the £1800 already donated to Alzheimer's Research UK), which is fantastic! I've raised the target from £1000 to £1200 as I enter the final furlong..... 


I'm doing the sixtyat60challenge to raise funds for Shooting Star Chase children's hospice care in memory of a special little girl called Thea Redford. 

For further information or to make a donation please visit my JustGiving page at https://www.justgiving.com/sixtyat60challenge/

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