After the first day, I couldn't lift my arms

If you lived in Winchester 16 years ago, your bin might have been emptied by an award-winning DJ. The current Sony DJ of the Year, Christian O'Connell, who in January took over Virgin Radio's breakfast slot, was a 16-year-old at Peter Symonds College earning some cash over the Christmas holidays.

"I'd registered with a temping agency for students," Christian recalls. "You'd arrive in the morning and they'd give you hideous jobs that other people didn't want to do. I turned up with my little packed lunch and they said, 'You're on the bins,' and the other people were giggling. I went to the Winchester refuse depot and found out why. It was tough, hard work. At the end of the first day, I got home - and I couldn't lift my arms."

Naturally enough, young Christian imagined that he would push only one wheelie-bin at a time to the dustcart where it would be upended and emptied. It turned out that you had to manoeuvre two at once. In case there is a dustmen's equivalent of the Magic Circle which places a curse on all who betray its arcane secrets, Christian will not risk revealing how you handle two wheelie-bins simultaneously but it is a trick that he still employs when steering a couple of wheeled suitcases around on holiday. Then there was the stuff people put in them: "Garden rubbish, masonry, bits of bodies! They weigh a ton."

The older dustmen were horrible to the 16-year-old college student: "They thought I was fair game. They kept eating my packed lunch when I got out of the cab. They would drive off without me. Because I was at college doing A-levels, and made the mistake of turning up with a book, they called me 'Gay boy!'" In fact, Christian had a girlfriend - with the emphasis on the past tense. "She thought I smelt like a hobo. It cost me my relationship." Oddly enough, the pong of the dustcart did not seem to deter some of the women who asked the chief dustman in for tea, biscuits and perhaps more while their husbands were at work.

Christian lasted only three weeks. He did find the job rewarding, partly in terms of the satisfaction of seeing the rubbish disappearing into the bin, and partly in terms of the pay, which was augmented by Christmas tips (especially as he didn't share them out, his revenge for the others being so unpleasant).

Yet although disdainful of him, the binmen were very polite to the public and kept an eye on the older residents while on their rounds. Their cab was neat and tidy - there was no rubbish in there. And to their credit, they told him: "You make sure you do well at college so that you don't end up like us." He worked a lot harder at his A-levels after that.