REAL WORK: NINE TO FIVE

Name Mel Thomas, 25 Occupation Commercial diver Salary From pounds 18,000 Address Stoke Newington, north London

Too much Jacques Cousteau, when you were young, was it?

Not exactly, although I have been scuba diving since I was nine. I had a gift for it and I knew I wanted to make it my job, which meant I had two choices, either to become a ship's diver in the Royal Navy or to become a commercial diver. I applied to join the Navy but I'd lived all over the world with my family and they wanted the names of everyone my parents and I knew. It was impossible. So I got a loan and took a 14-week course in Fort William in north-west Scotland. It cost pounds 8,000 plus pounds 2,000 for living expenses.

Heavens! I hope you're paid enough to meet the interest...

It's hard to earn that money back to be honest. There is big money in diving but only in the oil fields. I can't get to the Gulf to work because I'm a woman, and in the North Sea you have to know someone who already has a job.

What did you do?

I worked very hard to get a job and eventually got two days inspection diving in Liverpool. Then I travelled for a while, and when I came back I landed my present job for Arkal, a marine and underwater civil engineering company. We repair walls and bridges and do specialist work like putting in a concrete mattress to plug a leaking waterbed. We do a lot of work for the Environmental Agency. You name it we do it. I've been here for three years on and off and I've been working full time for the past year.

So it's up in the morning and into your wet-suit is it?

I still dive but now I'm the office manager as well, which means that I do site visits and check to see that everything is going to schedule. I don't want to be a diver for the rest of my life, I want to climb the industry ladder. It's a young industry and as you get older your body can't handle it. You get pains and ailments, sore knees and elbows. Already I don't have pretty hands. Your body has an expiry date. If your eardrums, your joints or lungs go your career is history. The oldest divers I know are between 45 and 50.

It must be lovely, spending your days looking at fish

If only! Visibility is terrible - we're normally working in the dark. You have to carry in your head a black-and-white image of what you are supposed to see. It freaks some people out but I like it, I like the challenge.

Is it a man's world?

Yes, there's a lot of banter in the industry. I can either be one of the lads or a flirt, so I try to be one of the lads. I set out to gain the trust of the guys I work with, which is important because we work in teams of four: a diver, a standby diver, a supervisor and a tender. If the diver gets into trouble the standby has to go in and get him and the tender has to have the strength to pull him back. I was a power lifter when I was younger so they know I have the strength.

And after work? We socialise; I'm one of the lads. We go for a drink after work and if we are away from London we'll go to a club. I buy my round and give the boys tips on chat-up lines.

Any underwater lurve?

I'm too busy organising my career for a relationship. As my mum says, get your independence first, girl. But I'm leaving the door open...

Dinners for one then?

No way! I flatshare with three friends. We shop in pairs and have a big meal together on Sundays. But during the weeks it's Navy rules: if you want to eat something, you go get it.

PETER CROSS

News
The guide, since withdrawn, used illustrations and text to help people understand the court process (Getty)
newsMinistry of Justice gets law 'terribly wrong' in its guide to courts
News
Bobbi Kristina Brown with her mother Whitney Houston in 2011
people
News
Starting the day with a three-egg omelette could make people more charitable, according to new research
scienceFeed someone a big omelette, and they may give twice as much, thanks to a compound in the eggs
News
Top Gun actor Val Kilmer lost his small claims court battle in Van Nuys with the landlord of his Malibu mansion to get back his deposit after wallpapering over the kitchen cabinets
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
News
The actress Geraldine McEwan was perhaps best known for playing Agatha Christie's detective, Miss Marple (Rex)
peopleShe won a Bafta in 1991 for her role in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
News
newsPatrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
News
Robert Fraser, aka Groovy Bob
peopleA new show honours Robert Fraser, one of the era's forgotten players
Life and Style
Torsten Sherwood's Noook is a simple construction toy for creating mini-architecture
tech
Sport
David Silva celebrates with Sergio Aguero after equalising against Chelsea
footballChelsea 1 Manchester City 1
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

    £15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

    Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

    £15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

    Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

    £20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

    Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

    £18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

    Day In a Page

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
    Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

    The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

    Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
    Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

    A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
    How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

    How books can defeat Isis

    Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
    The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

    The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

    The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
    Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

    Young carers to make dance debut

    What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
    Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

    Design Council's 70th anniversary

    Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
    Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

    Dame Harriet Walter interview

    The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

    Bill Granger's winter salads

    Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
    England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

    George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

    No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
    Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links