My Week: It's a dirty job, but someone has to do it: Beneath the cruel city sun, Martin Clark walks the streets after a sweeping change in profession

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The Independent Online
Monday - Andrew, 'the guv'nor', shows me my route in the dustcart (his pride and joy), stopping off to empty some overflowing bins by the roadside. I am then kitted out - broom, binliners, gloves, waterproofs and a dirty yellow barrow to shove around. I am told my job is a thankless one, and left to get on with it.

For the rest of the day, I casually plod about the streets, sweeping up piles of sweet papers before returning to the dump with the day's catch. In the hot sun, the skip, filled with empty drink cans and ice lolly wrappers, is surrounded by wasps and smells sickly sweet.

Tuesday - My broom skills are improving. With a series of neat thrusts and parries, I learn to avoid passers-by, collecting small, tidy piles of mess which are then deposited in the barrow.

People look at me in different ways. Some are strangely sympathetic, avoiding eye contact at all costs. Others are spiteful. Two youths jeer at me: 'I bet you're intelligent, mate.'

Later on, I meet up with Mario at the dump. He is in good form, as usual. 'This job's rubbish,' he jokes, motioning to the skip nearby. Mario spends most of his time nattering, and says he's in it for the money, not to be environmentally correct.

Wednesday - There is a new problem today: rain. I don the heavy waterproofs and set out on my rounds. 5The heat is still on and I sweat profusely, my clothes clinging to my skin. I realise why Andrew had played down the glamorous side of the job on my first day.

This is underlined later in the morning when, beside a car park wall, I find a syringe used by some drug-addict the night before. The bloodstained needle and some yellow stuff inside turn my stomach. I'm not sure what to do with it, so I carefully place it inside a handy McDonald's milk shake carton, then lob it into the safety of the barrow.

Someone has to pick these things up. Fortunately, I got there before any children could discover this deadly new toy - this time.

Thursday - It's sunny again and I decide to work on my tan. I parade the streets, treating myself to an ice cream. Two young boys arrive on the scene and start pestering me, so I tell them to buzz off.

As I'm emptying the bins, I listen to my personal stereo, oblivious to the throng of people around me. There's a great deal of freedom in this job, so I enjoy a few hours' daydreaming.

In the middle of the pavement, a dog has left its business behind. I don't really want to get involved, so I pretend somehow not to have noticed it and stroll past, slightly red-faced.

Friday - I spend the morning working at lightning speed to clear the decks for this afternoon. This is good, solid roadsweeping - just what the public like to see.

After lunch, I sneak down an alleyway and drink two warm cans of lager and think about the weekend.

At four o'clock, I get back to the dump, where I leave my barrow and quietly disappear. I'm hot and dirty, the smell of the skip lingering in my nostrils. I look forward to my bath and the chance to be clean for a couple of days.

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