A dirty job, but someone's got to do it: The sensitive might recoil from just reading about the unpleasant tasks of life. Andrea Adams meets five people whose work requires a strong stomach: George Miller - Maggot breeder

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Indy Lifestyle Online
GEORGE MILLER, a maggot breeder in the Midlands for the past 15 years, has watched dozens of men walk out of the job before the end of their first day.

'A lot of people associate maggots with death and corpses, so they don't seem to cope well with the sight of thousands of them wriggling around. But it is usually the smell they can't stand. On a hot summer's day it even gets into your pores. After work, it's the quickest way I know to be served a beer in a local bar.

'When I first came here, I saw some of the blokes sitting next to one of 150 brick vats of maggots, eating their fish and chips, and I thought: 'With that smell, how could they?' Maggots give off ammonia when they're hungry, and although you get used to it, it is a terrible stink. But now I do just the same as they did.'

Mr Miller, a 52-year-old divorcee ('You're not surprised, are you?') talks as he puts a handful of maggots back into their box before reaching for a cheese sandwich. Boxes containing millions of squirming maggots are kept alive in the spacious chilling room, ready to be dispatched in refrigerated lorries to supply the shops frequented by anglers in search of live bait, both in Britain and abroad. Zoos and aviaries are other destinations for the slippery masses.

Mr Miller recalls how he was once knee-deep in maggots when a lorry's refrigeration system failed. 'My eyes were stinging and watering and I could hardly breathe. Once they start to get warm, the ammonia smell intensifies, and if they're not chilled down, they stretch and die within minutes.'

One of the most important daily tasks is to mince the fish offal and still-feathered turkey and chicken carcasses, which are crammed into discarded oil drums.

The raw meat is put down in fly- houses containing billions of bluebottles, or 'pinkies', as one variety is affectionately known. Mr Miller says that the flies blow fertile eggs on to the meat - 'providing they're given plenty of tender loving care'.

'You see, these flies are tame. They'll happily sit on your hand. But you have to walk in quietly and give them respect, otherwise they can swarm into the air, get into your nose, or ears, or nostrils, and if they break their wings, then you might lose the lot.

'That's the aim of some of our competitors. In the season, when there's a glut of maggots and everyone is producing for the same outlets, the flies are the number one target when it comes to industrial espionage.'

Once the fly-blown meat is spread thinly across the base of the brick vats, the eggs hatch into maggots within an hour.

'They're just bags of protein. I'd eat them if I was starving, and when you grow one to be half an inch or so long, there's a real sense of pride about the place,' Mr Miller says.

'All they do is look for something to eat, you know. Me and my mates have even discussed what would happen if one of us fell unconscious into a maggot vat when nobody else was around. I suppose they'd think we were quite tasty]'

Mr Miller's 55-hour week shovelling and filtering maggots earns him a take-home pay of pounds 125.

'Some of the blokes go to endless lengths before they go home, showering and spraying themselves. They end up smelling like a load of tarts. Sometimes you can shower, and then bath yourself at home, and you still end up down the pub with everyone giving you a wide berth. But it's a job I love and I certainly wouldn't do anything else.

'Anyway, if you breathe in that ammonia, it's the finest cure I know for a hangover]'

(Photograph omitted)

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