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30 May 2022

Interview: Come fly with me!

Interview | PPC107 June 2022

Pest professional Mark Bower spoke to PPC about his time ‘down under’ and the wealth of overseas opportunities for pest controllers willing to step out of their comfort zones.

Interview with Mark Bower PPC107

In around 1998, I was looking for a job and saw an ad for a wasp technician at Rentokil.

It was a summer temp position and I thought it was quite cool. You drive around in your van doing jobs, people are always pleased to see you and grateful for the work you do. 

That was my introduction to pest control as a career.

Since then I’ve been quite lucky; I’ve done and seen so much – youth hostels in Snowdonia, pigeon shoots at a large chemical factory in Liverpool, a big American college in London – I’ve travelled all over the country.

TV star ‘down under’

While I was working with Positive Environmental we went to Birmingham for PestTech and there was a TV crew attending. They were looking for people to go to Australia and work with pest controllers over there.

I thought it sounded cool and that the show was going to be a serious study on pest control; it turned out to be more of a comedy documentary, where they put you in situations so that they could film you screaming.

And the people who screamed the most got aired the most, which (luckily for my ego) wasn’t me. 

Anyway, for the price of looking a bit of a plonker on TV, I had all my flights paid for, plus accommodation and living expenses for three months. I asked my gaffer if I could have three months off, sorted out my direct debits, got on a plane and went. 

The snake started coming towards me with an attitude and I nearly jumped out of the pool!

Mark Bower

I went to Sydney, Brisbane, all over. One of the best things I got to do while out there was go into the Blue Mountains in New South Wales and complete a venomous snake handling course. 

It was run by a guy called Neville Burns, and basically he put me in an empty swimming pool with a bag, a snake hook and some venomous tiger snakes (Notechis scutatus). 

It was 45 degrees, and the snakes were very hot and annoyed. At one point Neville put a snake on the floor, then got distracted talking to the staff. I just had a hook in my hand but I didn’t have the bag!

The snake started coming towards me with an attitude and I nearly jumped out of the pool!

But I grabbed the bag and managed to hook it, which takes a lot of skill and nerve. 

Red bellied black snake PPC107

As well as tiger snakes, we dealt with:

So, some serious health implications from these animals we were dealing with!

Then I worked in Sydney with a guy called Harley, driving around and getting snakes out of properties. 

We also dealt with funnel web spiders. I remember one time there was a female under a log and we got it out, put it in a little case, touched it with a screwdriver and it just reared up right on its back legs; you could see its two fangs just dripping venom. 

At one point, I remember being in Harley’s van, driving over Sydney harbour bridge.

He received a call from a guy with a snake in his house and I had a moment where I thought, “I’m on this iconic bridge, looking out over the harbour, getting calls for venomous snakes” – and it was surreal.

Itchy feet

I’d been back from Australia a while, and working in Birmingham, when I saw an advert calling for pest controllers to go to Myanmar. 

I rang the manager and got a phone interview. He wanted someone to come out for three months, with paid flights and accommodation, to train his team up to British standards. 

It turns out you don’t have to ask me twice, so off I went. 

In a nutshell, they were flying me all over the country looking after different sites. The manager would say, “Tomorrow you’re going to Mandalay, and you’re going to work at the hotels there supervising the team, and treat cockroaches and termites.”

So I would do that and then write reports for the management on what I’d found.

Living the dream Mark Bower PPC107

We performed mosquito inspections on tourist boats traversing the Irrawaddy River. Then there’d be a problem with cockroaches in a shopping centre in Yangon, so I’d fly back there and deal with that. I’d train company staff in five-star hotels and big companies using an interpreter. I was all over the country. 

I’d get put up in a hotel suite and every morning I’d be out with my guys doing the audits. I’d get to try some amazing food (noodles for breakfast took me a while to get used to) and when I’d get home from work I could take a swim in the hotel pool. 

There’s no feeling like waking up for a job doing an audit, being in a luxury lodge by the sea and just walking down to a tropical beach. 

Pigeons, rats and Buddhist monks

While in Myanmar I went to a big hotel at Bagan, a vast plain with lots of Buddhist temples

They had luxury hotels there with pigeon problems; I trained Burmese technicians in the use of neck break pliers to dispatch pigeons, which was difficult.

It needed to be done, but they were Buddhist so they believe there’s a spirit in every living thing. We had to work with the Buddhist monks to get permission to do that. 

I also worked at one of the biggest Buddhist temples in the middle of Yangon. They had trouble with rats and, again, we had to get permission from the monks to put bait boxes in.

We also had to do all the installations of these bait boxes in bare feet, as it’s disrespectful to do otherwise. 

With the team in Yangon Myanmar Mark Bower PPC107

Bagan was a highlight; I was right up in the roof sorting the birds out, and I looked out at sunset and you could see the plains of Bagan right in front of you, stretching on for miles, with all these beautiful Buddhist temples. Pictures don’t do it justice.

Fun fact

The plain of Bagan, one of Asia’s richest archaeological sites, is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. The ancient city was once home to over 13,000 temples constructed between the 9th and 13th centuries.

Risk and reward

If you have a job that can be utilised in any country in the world and the opportunity arises, take it.

Of course you do have to be careful, as sometimes these jobs abroad sound great but they can be a bit dodgy. Top tip: do your homework, check the small print. 

Having said that, I was able to spend six months in two beautiful countries doing my job. If I pop my clogs tomorrow, I will have gotten every bit of use out of my pest control knowledge and have no regrets.

I say get out of your comfort zone and take risks – especially young people who don’t have anything tying them down. This can be a hell of an interesting career if you take the chances when they come up.

Mark Bower

People can be trapped by their domestic circumstances, but this kind of trip can benefit your family.

When I came back from Myanmar I was headhunted by Mitie for a training officer job. So, instead of just being a run of the mill pest controller, people can see there is more to you. You’ve got more work and life experience than the average technician.

It’s understandable that people are scared, but I say get out of your comfort zone and take risks – especially young people who don’t have anything tying them down. This can be a hell of an interesting career if you take the chances when they come up.

I’m very lucky; I’ve seen more of the world through doing pest control than I would have in another job. I’ll certainly take the next adventure when the opportunity comes along!

Your stories. Your magazine.

Got a story for PPC? Get in touch. We can support you with an article, conduct an interview or come and meet you out-and-about.

hello@bpca.org.uk

Source: PPC107

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