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by John Connolly
When I think of August, one outstanding memory springs to mind RASPBERRIES
Liverpool, August 1987, dole Brittania. One of our resident contributors and
myself happened upon and advert in the Job Centre that required raspberry
pickers in Ledbury, an ancient borough in Herefordshire that dates back to
the Doomsday book fact fans. The pay was piecework, you could earn up to
£200 a week if you were an octopus who didn't sleep much.
The country was in the grip of Thatcherism so taking that t*** Tebbit's
advise, Degs and myself didn't riot, we got on our bikes and headed south to
were the streets, or indeed fields, were paved with gold, red gold, Toxteth
The social payed for our train fare and in true Hunter S Thomson style, we
blew our last giro on pharmaceutical essentials with purple microdots, pink
wiz and a nice chunk of leb being the order of the day. We spent the night
with mates, tucking into our stash for supposedly one last hurrah before
leaving the city for the fresh country air.
We jumped the red eye train from Lime Street, chonging like the strident
teenagers we were. As we disembarked at Ledbury, we discovered there were no
taxis and we didn't have any directions, only an address. The job provided
accommodation in the form of a field to pitch your tent so we were pretty
weighed down with all our worldly possessions. We found an abandoned Tesco
trolley and lumped the tent and bags in. The stereo was plunked on top and
we had Santana 'Soul Sacrifice' on full blast as we traversed through the
We headed off down a country path for no particular reason and happened upon
a sign that read 'RASPBERRIES PYO' - this reduced us to tears of mirth as we
hurried on down the path. When we reached farm, it turned out to be the
wrong one. The farmer didn't know where our farm was but directed us to a
public telephone box. We called direct enquiries who eventually found the
number. Stoned and tired, a lethal combo, I proceed to ask telling questions
to the bemused carrot cruncher on the line like 'where?' 'what road?' and so
on. Not knowing our surroundings we decided to take a short cut, the heavens
opened as we dragged the trolley through a muddy field and by chance found
the farm. We dumped the trolley and trundled down the cobbled path were a
kind lady wearing a cast on her leg directed us to the campsite.
The camp site was only a 10 second walk but seeing as we were both carrying
bags with tent stuff in and wearing Reebok workout and chinos, we struggled
to make it. You had to cross a drainage moat, I jumped first and slipped in,
Grotti threw the bags across the followed me by also slipping into the
dirge. We eventually set up the tent, letting more rain in than seemed to be
outside, slipped into our raspberry picking garb and headed off to the
field. The farmers daughter, a buxom rosy cheeked pig faced girl gave us the
low down on how to pick fruit. I can't remember what you got for a punnet
but it was blatantly obvious to me that while we were here, we weren't going
to be rolling in anything other than cattle's business.
It was about 13:30 when we started and the sun was beating down. We were
separated, probably to make sure we'd work harder. Grotti in his infinite
wisdom decided it would be a great idea to split one our lysergic microdots.
Of course, being young and impressionable, I wholeheartedly agreed. After an
hour or so, I could see Grotti's big daft infectious smile sweeping over the
raspberry crop. There was an air force base close by and low flying war jets
boomed over the fields. Like some sort of drug ESP, everytime I looked up,
Grotti would do the same, then we'd both start laughing hysterically,
particularly when a jet would swoop over.
By the end of the day, I think we'd picked about £20 worth of raspberries
with most of the punnets covered in slobber after our diethylamide japes.
The night was still young so we decided to stock up on food and settle down
by the campfire for a spot of chonging. We asked for directions to the local
store and Grotti took along his Barbour jacket and giant Head bag to
preserve the stereotype of us all being thieving t****. Indeed, there is no
sight more enduring than a man in the middle of summer wearing a heavy wax
jacket, with eyes the size of sauces robbing a shop blind. I had to stand
outside I was laughing so much. I'm sure the poor woman knew what was
happening but was terrified.
We got back to base and surveyed Grotti's haul. When it comes to focus, LSD
is the not the drug of choice and observing our supplies really backed up
that fact. There were a few edible items like sausages and bacon but the
rest was a mish mash you'd expect from someone who gobbles hallucinogenics
and goes on a super market sweep. Toys, packets of seeds, the odd garden
tool and a Playboy magazine were procured. There was a giant tin of spam
that I nearly lost a finger opening, only to find a note inside saying 'good
luck to our boys in the Somme'.
The furore attracted a fast crowd from Sunderland who insisted on playing
'high energy' music like Colonel Abrahams on our stereo while Grotti and
myself set about burning the sausages. We tried in vain to tune them into
Roger Waters latest drivel 'Radio Chaos' but this was met with bizarre looks
and the odd 'What the fugs this mon? Viet-fugging-nam?'
We ended up going for a swim in the public baths with the Makems, who'd been
there for a month and gave us the low down. They'd all secured jobs at a
local packaging factory and were saving up for a flat. The farmer still
thought they were working in the field so let them camp on his land. After
our swim and wash we headed off to the pub. Only one boozer would let fruit
pickers and travellers in, a cozy little snug that sold the strongest
scrumpy known to man.
So strong in fact that Grotti and myself missed the next mornings picking.
The Makems had told us where to go for the factory jobs and remarkably, we
got them. Asked when we could start, we decided to leave it for a week so we
could have a little holiday. We spent the next few days lazing on the
campsite during the day, trying to avoid the farmers' daughter. Our nights
were spent dropping trips and floating around the swimming baths like Bob
Geldof in The Wall or gate crashing birthday parties of some chap called
The night before we were due to start, Grotti got in touch with his dad and
traipsed up to Coventry, leaving the tent flap open. I woke up in around 4
inches of water, it would've been deeper but for the numerous pot burns on
the ground sheet. I jibbed work and spent the day in Grotti's 2-para
sleeping bag. I made a conscious decision to upsticks and head back to life
on the dole. I broke the news to Grotti on his return, he agreed and we
headed to the station, leaving the borrowed tent and aspirations in the
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