Times Remembered – Fruit Picking

Wednesday 29th January

I was born and brought up in Suffolk.  Suffolk was all we knew; we imagined that the whole world was like Suffolk, and even though we had been taught that Africans lived in mud houses and wore plates in their lips and had long triangular breasts that hung down like flaps someone had forgotten to tuck in, we really couldn’t believe that the whole world could be any different from Suffolk.

Suffolk was agricultural, fields and fields and little hedges and spinneys dotted here and there.  And even if you didn’t work on the land you were connected in a way people just are n’t today.  When I was about 7 or maybe 8 my mother took me fruit picking.  She did it for at least two or three years.  She would be saving for something or other, a holiday maybe or some new furniture and fruit picking was one of the ways to earn extra money.  The lorry, a flat bed with maybe a part covering with canvas would pick us up early in the morning, and we would scramble aboard, a few lucky women found purchase on the wooden bench near the driver’s cabin, the rest of us bumped along as the lorry wended its weary way up mud lanes to the fields.

My mum was a great picker, and whether it was beans or peas or strawberries she worked all day long and filled her baskets and sacks faster than anyone else.  For a while I would work alongside her.  If it was strawberries I would have my own little Tupperware tub filled with sugar which I would dip every fifth or sixth strawberry in and eat, the juice running down my chin.  But sooner or later, usually after our sandwich lunch me and the other kids would play, running in and out of the ditches or chasing the girls round the pig sties.

The sun always seemed to be shining and before we knew it we were back in the lorry and delivered home.  We didn’t know it then but these days were the free-est and happiest times we would ever know.  Now it is Polish and Lithuanians who pick the fruit; English people are too lazy, or maybe the money just isn’t good enough.