Friday, 24 July 2009

My life as a lumper bumper

When I was a student, I worked two summers in a chemical lab - the only time I've ever worked in a real lab, albeit a commercial one. It was at a factory that processed organic chemicals - and to be honest it was very much the B lab. The A lab was the research & development people who dreamed up processes and products (they devised the original fabric conditioner). Our job in the inwards lab was to check the quality of raw materials before they were allowed into the factory.

The part of the job I remember best was being the lumper bumper (no, I don't know why it was called this). I did this my first summer in the lab, though the second summer there was someone junior to me, so he got the job. The main raw materials the factory used were fats and oils. Several times a day a tanker, like an oil tanker, would turn up. I would have to pull on an overall and head off to meet it.

I then had to climb up on top of the tanker, open a port on the top and lower in a cunning device which enabled me to take samples from different depths in the tanker. With a mix of top, middle and bottom layers poured into my bucket, I then had to trudge back to the lab to do a series of tests on colour, pH and more.

The worst tankers were the tallow tankers - liquid animal fat, kept hot enough to stay liquid. It stank, and the ladders were always coated with it, making them dangerously slippy, especially in the rain. The best was coconut oil. It smelled wonderful, and was great for your hands.

There was a lot of titration involved, I remember, though I can't dig out the details of what we were titrating for.

It wasn't my favourite part of the job. This was going down to the adjacent canal several times a day and taking water samples above and below the factory to see if anything had escaped. It was just rather nice, being paid to take a stroll along the canal. Having said that, I did enjoy (in a masochistic way) the rare days when the incoming materials were substandard, and I had to go and tell a big tanker driver he wasn't allowed to make his delivery.

The sad postscript to this is that I drove past the factory site, at Littleborough near Rochdale, a year or so ago and it was in the process of being demolished. The whole thing, that vast site was disappearing. When I passed again this spring it was blank earth. My entire experience had been erased. But I won't forget being a lumper bumper.


  1. Couldn't help noticing that your company gets its name into everything - even onto the name of french lorries in the photo....

  2. I hadn't spotted that! Purely by accident.