The Sharp End: Life as a navvy

A life on the open road... The modern navvy's lot is tough but better paid than Rhymer Rigby expected.

by Rhymer Rigby

Roadmenders like to hit the road early: 7-7.30am is the normal start time. This is probably quite pleasant on a warm summer's day, but on a freezing cold February morning, it isn't much fun. In fact, because the stretch of highway we were to be working on was a busy one, our actual working time was restricted to between 9.30am and 4pm. But I wasn't going to get a lie-in that easily - the early kick-off gave me time to have my H&S briefing and get kitted out in the kind of fluorescent outfit that probably makes you visible from space.

Thus strikingly attired, I met the gang I would be working with: Mark, Monica (the gang agent), Steve from ASI (whose clever new pothole-mending technology we were using), Anthony and a Polish guy called, I think, Makhir. We had a couple of cups of sugary coffee apiece, then headed out to our 'office' for the day, a busy stretch of main road just off the M3 near Winchester. Due probably to a combination of poor repairs in the past and the constant punishment of passing HGVs, it had developed dips in its surface and bumps at either side, to boot. In bad weather, these were channelling water away from the drains, resulting in localised flooding. We needed to flatten the asphalt to get the water draining properly again.

Rather than digging up the roads conventionally, we were using a new technique called 'Rhinopatching'. The Rhino is effectively a giant upside-down gas barbecue. You turn it on and it melts the road surface to a depth of about 10cm. You then rake this over, add a 'rejuvenator'compound - and fresh asphalt if necessary - before resealing. The Rhino's pluses are that you dig up as little road as possible (so thankfully no wielding of a pickaxe for me) and it makes seamless repairs. It's also very quick - the record for Rhinopatching, I was told in awed tones, was in the order of 140 square metres a day. Our patches, though, were fiddly; we wouldn't be breaking any records.

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