A shudder, an ear-grating grind and I'm left suspended in mid-air like a grubby schoolboy ignominiously pinned on some cloakroom coat pegs.
'You twat, you're not meant to be mucking about,' booms Lemmie in his broadest East Anglian patois.
Lemmie is my driver and fortunately he has just kicked the emergency stop.
In short - and I very nearly was before my precipitous escape from the jaws of compactment - I am a dustman. Or, as the people in the local Job Centre would have you believe, an Environmental Operative.
A purse-sapping private education, a wodge of exam certificates and a journalistic qualification should have ensured a place on the path leading to the delights of Fleet Street. My booted foot has now been rather gingerly placed on the back of a dustcart - to the dismay of my parents, who still say, with gritted teeth, that they are very proud of me.
Tuesday: Lemmie picks me up for our round in the dustcart at 5.30am. The exhaust funnel heaves out effluvia into my parents' open bedroom window directly overhead. Gunning the engine he bellows from the cab that this isn't a girls' outing, and for the benefit of my mother: ' 'Bye Sarah, we're off to work now, some of us have to, you know.'
Lemmie is a rangy, ferociously blue-eyed veteran dustman who hates taking anyone inexperienced on his round lest they slow him down. The scourge of rookie dustmen, he will always ask anyone new on his lorry if they have a video recorder. Because among his many talents, which include drinking 80 pints of home brew a week, he boasts a pornographic library collection that spans a hundred volumes - many featuring the amorous antics of farmyard animals.
I ask if perhaps his watching them at home isn't harming his young children, and if his wife is imbued with some kind of preternatural understanding?
Quick to reassure me, he says he watches them with the sound off. Today he makes a roaring trade distributing films to publicans on his round, who lease them out under the bar.
Wednesday: Lemmie bemoans the advent of wheelie-bins, saying rubbish in a sack was much easier to hurl into the back of the lorry. He thinks bin lifts are for fairies. Step-riding (riding on the back of the lorry) is now illegal, but Lemmie likes to finish his round in record speed. To achieve this, his loaders (the minions who load rubbish into the lorry while he drives) must stand on the lifts at the back in between picking up bins. This is fine around the town, but once out in the country problems begin to emerge. Sometimes bins are a mile apart.
While Lemmie drives like a foul-tempered Nigel Mansell at tarmac-loosening velocity, I cling to the back of the lorry with only a T-shaped bar to stand on. Pot-holes are the major hazard, as the lift bucks a couple of feet in the air. Your nose rests at arm's length from a putrefying mass of soiled napppies, cat litter and festering food cartons. I suppose the nearest equivalent is blindly riding a motorcycle with no suspension or breaks - at speed - two inches behind a motorised skip of dung.
Thursday: I work with Brian, a burly, bearded and tattooed Hell's Angel. He says the only reason he reads the local newspaper is so that he can see which of his friends is up in court. Mercifully, he hasn't found out that while on work experience with the local paper I wrote the drugs expose that was probably responsible for his local watering hole being raided by the police and 15 of his mates being thrown into chokey.
Friday: With a road of expectant wheelies veering into view, the sun beating on my back, a belly full of free beer for removing a pub's extra rubbish, and a nubile young housewife eyeing my tanned biceps, being a dustman doesn't seem such a bleak career prospect after all. But perhaps I'm being carted away by that Friday feeling.Reuse content