Stale smells of that last pint and cold chips hang in the murky air down Lancaster Road where it meets Church Street and Fishergate.Advertisement
Heels of the last glammed-up girls making their way for the taxi ranks as the final 6am clubs close their doors after another night of excess.
Preston’s first of two Mad Fridays draws to a close, and as the Christmas lights twinkle from the shop windows an orange light flashes into view on top of a small van.
A man hops from the cab in his hi-vis jacket and grabs a wheelie bin.
This is Paul Keane, and he’s been working these streets for 16 years.
“It’s just what we do,” says Paul as he heads for an overflowing bin opposite Richer Sounds and takeaway shops, “you get used to the early starts and the gloom. It doesn’t look like it was too bad last night, I think the weather wasn’t great so they won’t have hung around and dropped too much rubbish.”
We’re surrounded by plastic chip cartons and pizza boxes, each one half-finished and clearly a moment of booze-fuelled necessity but now turning cold on the damp streets.
“There’s bins but they get full quickly,” says Paul, “but there’s another one just down there which is nearly empty. But I guess people just don’t see it.”
Paul’s round takes him about four hours and takes in the city centre and down to the Docks.
He said: “People don’t know this happens while they are asleep. Last night ends, we come in and clean up, and come 9am you would never know it had happened. But we just get on and do it, always have, always will.”
As Paul’s van pulls away there’s the hum of a street sweeper coming into view.
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“Morning,” smiles Jed Smith from his cab, “hop in.”
We’re mounting the kerb and making out slow, steady, way down the pavement in Lancaster Road clearing everything in our path.
“You just don’t see it anymore,” says Jed, “we can hold three and a half tonnes in one of these things and we’ll fill it. Sometimes twice in a shift.
“They will take most things, except the pizza boxes.”
He sighs as he mentions the pizza boxes and we come to a halt near one of the piled up bins and Jed jumps from the sweeper.
“They don’t fit up the tubes you see,” he says as he stuffs the pizza boxes into the bin taking them from a pile of detritus below him, “or they block them and then you’ve got trouble.”
This is an experienced cleaning team. Between them they’ve got 62 years of keeping the streets of Proud Preston looking spic and span.
Mike Ales is the newest recruit, he’s eight years into this and came to the UK from Nigeria.
His job is to use the litter-picker to clean what the sweeper machines can’t, mainly pizza boxes and fried chicken caked onto the pavement.
“People make a mess”, Mike says as his clips another pizza box into his bag, “but they always will.
“I don’t mind it. The work is okay and I make enough money to help fund my two brothers through university in Nigeria.
“It does feel good when you see the streets at the end of it. All these people walking down for their morning shopping and they don’t know how it all looked now.
He’s joined by another litter picker, Graham Davenport, he’s 47 and has been doing this 11 years.
“You’ve got to get all the nooks and crannies with this,” he says as we dart off down one of the side streets from Fishergate.
“People tend to go round into these alleys with their drinks and food, and it all gets dropped here. So you need to get down them all and find it all, stop the rats, you know.”
Graham has to clear out under one of the box stops where clearly some late night clubbers have enjoyed a fast food feast before boarding the last bus home. The sweeper can’t get here, only Graham’s plastic claw.
His sweeper partner is Bob Farley. He usually drives the seven and a half tonne sweepers round the city’s estates but he’s doing overtime.
Pop music blares from his cab as I board it.
He says: “Bit of extra money this. Do a few weekends every now and again you know.
“Got Church Street for me this morning and yeah it’s a bit of a mess. It’s not as bad this year but I guess you’ve got the two Fridays instead of the one.
“It’s a couple of hours to get it all looking good and then we’re back to the depot. Been up since 5am so a good breakfast is needed after this.
“You get used to the early starts and what have you. It’s just work isn’t it?”
They do their job. Their quiet, unassuming job, to ensure the streets of Preston look presentable for Saturday morning so Friday night’s madness is a memory in the minds of some but not left on the streets for others to see or smell.
And next time you’re out have a burger or chips, not a pizza, it makes these lads lives a little easier.