Bartlett (Chris)

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    If you go down to the sewer today...

    Chris Hildrey
    Oct 27, '08 9:28 PM EST

    My project this year is heading in an interesting direction. I have no idea where it's ultimately going to take me, but that's really the point. It's exhilirating to be able to just enjoy it as it develops. However, for all this enjoyment and desire to share my thoughts (archinect has always seemed like a good place for creative feedback), I'm still finding myself in the overly-precious phase.

    I see it like a pregnancy. Final year of diploma is essentially a year long research project. Over time your idea matures. At this stage, though, it's still gestating. Just as you wouldn't smoke in front of a pregnant woman, I find myself not wanting to talk about my project with others for fear of contamination. Ideas get mixed around, focus gets lost and before you know it you have a baby with a face like a deflated basketball.

    And yet I've suffered in the past from being too precious. I used to hate working in the studio. I hated people seeing things when they were only half finished; the passing comments that crumpled my confidence and made me question decisions when it was too late. I eventually got past these insecurities and managed to engage with other people in the design process but this also has drawbacks. Having a chatty, open studio atmosphere in the early stages of the year can sometimes lead to converging ideas between people. You start out trying to allow your idea to follow its natural course and then conversations keep adding points of reference. Other people's ideas at such an early stage have a gravity - you either get drawn towards them or you try to drive away from them. Either strategy means that the idea's original trajectory is compromised.

    In order to avoid this, what I try to do is keep schtum about my project until everyone is nice and settled on their own path and then BLAMMO - compensate for my earlier silence and never stop talking about it. So, in other words, this is my way of telling you that I'm not ready to make a post describing the ins and outs of my project just yet. It's not you it's me.

    Site visit with a difference

    Despite this, however, I'm still going to post some photos from a project-relevant excursion I made last week. Occupying the dizzying heights of glamour as always, I ventured into the sewers.

    Now, I should point out that London sewers are not open to the public. These photos are not of a London sewer. The road signs and high-vis jackets are completely authentic. No unauthorised access was made. It's not you it's me.

    In order to visit the (not in London) sewer without authorised access (I mean with) I had to track down one of the leading urban explorers in the country (absolutely not the UK). It was quite an experience.

    Supplies. What you don't see is my wellington boots and waterproof trousers. I decided against waders as they were too expensive. This proved to be a false economy as the boots breached after 2 1/2 hours, flooding with...well, you know what.

    Gaining access using the props. I was getting a little nervous now. Arrest (wrongful of course - we had permission. Yes.) can result in being held as a terrorist for 48 hours and having to apply for a visa every time you leave the country. Probably doesn't look great on the CV either.

    Once in, we walked upstream for about 15 mins before hitting a brick wall where the sewer - previously an underground river - had been blocked off (the wall is behind my back in this photo). This dry patch was the only dry part of the night. Inlets are every 10-20 meters and it gets a lot deeper. Too deep to put a tripod down, unforunately.

    The little hole on the left led through to stairs then another sewer. This was also my first meeting with a rat who, despite bad press, seemed quite fresh and clean. Maybe that's where the little rat showers are.

    Going through the small opening and up the stairs

    It splits in two again. To the left, the other sewer; to the right a short passage to an empty room and possibly rat showers.

    Me crouching in the passage to the rat showers. What this image talks about that the others don't is the sheer, pitch blackness everywhere. At one point we did turn off our head lamps. I've never known darkness like it.

    Unfortunately, as I mentioned above, after this moment photography wasn't really possible. We walked downstream again to where we came in and kept going. In total we spent 3 1/2 hours below ground with no surfacing - plenty of time for memories to be etched on my mind. A few that stick out:

    1) Walking for 40 minutes down a straight brick tunnel hearing nothing but the swish of legs through thigh-deep sewage and an ever-increasing rumble of crashing water ahead.

    2) Reaching the crashing water and having to negotiate stairs with a torrent of sewage hitting my legs. Then almost slipping, grabbing the usefully placed handrail (these only appear near hazards) and feeling my hands slide down it's slippery metal accumulating 'grime' (yes, the worst kind) all the way. Latex gloves have never felt so thin.

    3) Wading through sewage so deep I was worried it would come up over my waterproof trousers. Then finding the ceiling drop by about two feet and having to stoop through for about 800m with my face feeling a little too close to the water level.

    4) My 'guide' telling me that they flush the sewers every so often for maintenance. Apparently 'flush' means pump with enough water to fill.

    5) Spotting an exit grating almost 3 hours in (only some gratings are openable from the underside) and deciding to walk on knowing we could come back. Watching the water level rise rapidly over the next 10 minutes to the point that we couldn't double back (the floor beneath the surface is curved like the ceiling and covered in a - shall we say - sewer silt that is incredibly slippy). Walking on with no other option, irrespective of what we might face.

    6) Seeing the flow divert into two pipes - one that was half boarded up and so much less deep on the other side; the other an open shaft outlet that plummeted at a downward angle into a black abyss. Then attempting to get to the boardered up one and having to go through a torrent of water that could easily knock me off my feet having only a very, very slippy handrail between me and a pretty miserable demise.

    There were some good, less terrifying, moments too:

    1) Finding out that it is probably at least a hundred years since anyone was last down here. No mainenance staff go this far and this part of the sewer system had never before been explored by the urban exploring community.

    2) Watching the sewer open out from a tiny, cramped tube in which we had to crouch to a massive parabolic passage at least 10m wide.

    3) All the quirky little offshoots and places intended for maintenance.

    4) The pyroclastic flow-esque accumulation of solidified fat from restaurants and concrete that a builder must have poured down a drain (moron).

    5) The longest and best shower in my life.


    • Erica

      That's it. I am going into the sewers of Cambridge immediately.

      Oct 27, 08 10:09 pm

      this is so scary man....i could never go down there. WOW
      I admire you.

      Oct 28, 08 5:58 pm

      Cheers. Better you than me. I once got lost in the touch tunnel at Liberty Science Center when I was very young... that was the end of me and dark enclosed tunnels.

      Oct 28, 08 5:59 pm

      Interesting project, Chris--always a fantasy of mine to explore these things but they usually aren't made for tall people.

      I'm wondering if you've seen this

      Oct 29, 08 3:17 am

      Thanks, Nick. I actually had come across that site during my research. There are quite a few draining sites scattered across the internet, each one more fascinating than the last. What's strange though is that you can get overloaded with the same images of pipes after a while, yet the same never happened when I was there. There's a great sense of anticipation around every bend - especially in these old sewers where materials, size and shape change so often.

      Cheers for bringing that back to my attention though. I may get in contact with him and ask a few questions.

      Oct 29, 08 5:27 pm
      Holly Claudia

      In many societies' medical or legal definitions, human pregnancy is somewhat arbitrarily divided into three trimester periods, as a means to simplify reference to the different stages of prenatal development. The first trimester carries the highest risk of miscarriage (natural death of embryo or fetus). During the second trimester, the development of the fetus can be more easily monitored and diagnosed. The beginning of the third trimester often approximates the point of viability, or the ability of the fetus to survive, with or without medical help, outside of the uterus. Meanwhile, have you heard about Brown fat? Brown fat is a good kind of fat. Brown fat is most definitely NOT found in bacon, but rather it most often is seen in infants, although adults still retain a good amount of it. The tissue burns energy in order to create heat and, if properly utilized, burns through sugars and other fatty deposits. It might be worth payday loans to charge it up if your interest is in fighting obesity. The best ways to activate it is actually to keep a little bit on the cold side, exercise and keep on a leaner diet. There isn't a lot of evidence as to whether or not it's an obesity cure, but it's worth giving some installment loans for brown fat.

      Apr 17, 09 5:57 am

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