Don't Give Up the Night Job; New Rules Now Limit the Hours of Night Workers. So Is It Best to Go to Work When Everyone Is Asleep or Does It Destroy Your Life? Christopher Middleton Meets Three Night Owls with Different Tales

The Evening Standard (London, England), November 3, 2003 | Go to article overview

Don't Give Up the Night Job; New Rules Now Limit the Hours of Night Workers. So Is It Best to Go to Work When Everyone Is Asleep or Does It Destroy Your Life? Christopher Middleton Meets Three Night Owls with Different Tales


Byline: CHRISTOPHER MIDDLETON

LEAK HUNTER DAVE ROTCHELL

NEXT time you are in the West End at three in the morning, have a look for Dave Rotchell. Chances are he'll be on his knees in the middle of the road.

Not because he's had a tequila too many, but because he's looking for leaks in London's water mains.

And the best way to find them is by putting his ear to the ground.

"Every leak generates its own distinctive sound, but during the day there's too much other noise going on to be able to hear it," says Dave, 59, who was a Royal Engineer before joining Thames Water.

"That means the only time of day I can do my job properly is when everyone else is asleep."

The main tool of Dave's trade is a listening stick - a steel rod with a small cup at one end, which he puts to his ear. Once he has located a leak, he paints distinctive blue marks on the ground to guide the repair team that will come when day breaks.

Dave's shift begins at 8.45pm every weekday and doesn't finish until 5.30am.

He gets home in time to make his wife a cup of tea and snuggle into the warm bed she has just vacated. It is a way of life that could harm many relationships, but Dave is unconcerned.

"I've been doing it for 10 years now, and I love it," he says.

"Over the years, we've got used to it, really, and our system works quite well. She gets up to a freshly made cup of tea, and I get into a nice, warm bed, so we're both happy. And we'll see each other for a few hours in the early evening before I go out to work, so it's not like we're strangers."

One of the joys of his job is the amount of independence he has.

"Each night we get a list of locations to check out, but we can use our initiative as to the order we do them. The work takes us all over town - from Cricklewood to Twickenham. Name any part of London and I've crawled around it in the dark. The way I see it, each shift's a bit of adventure."

There's just one thing, though, that would make the leak-finder's job easier. "I wish that people would pick their time to come up and talk to me," he says. "I'll be on my hands and knees in the outside lane of a main road and members of the public will come up and want to chat. I tell them I'll be happy to answer their questions when I'm not in imminent danger of getting a night bus in the backside!"

MEAT PACKER ROSS TIMSON

ROSS Timson works through the wee small hours for Smithfie ld meat traders PJ Martinelli, making up nightly orders for customers. Far from being a graveyard shift, it's actually rather lively.

"I don't know if it's because it's late at night, but there's a great atmosphere and we're always having a laugh with each other," says 20-year-old Ross, who started as a clerk in the office before transferring to the market floor 18 months ago. "And from about 4.30am onwards, all our regulars start dropping in to pick up orders for hotels and restaurants. It's a really sociable place.

"Most of the time we don't even stop for a meal. Maybe a packet of crisps around 5.30am. There's a pub in Smithfield that opens around that time, but it's very rare we go out and have a drink."

Although he lives in Stanford-le-Hope, in Essex, Ross operates an almost Mediterranean, siestastyle sleeping regime. Instead of eight hours' solid shuteye, he'll snatch three or four hours when he gets home at lunchtime, followed by another three hours around 10pm that night before driving to work. "The best part of going into work at 1.30am is there's no traffic on the roads," he says.

"I can get to work in 50 minutes, whereas in the rush hour it can take an hour and a half. The worst part of the job is having to pay [pounds sterling]25 a week in congestion charge, which I think is out of order because all I do during that charge period is come out of work and drive straight home. …

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