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First working day of my life

July 27th, 2014

I recently wrote an article, for the parish mag, about my first working day at the start of my horticultural career and here it is for what it`s worth

The first working day of my life as a trainee fruit worker

Dung is good for the roses, diesel fumes are no good to anyone.

Dung is good for the roses, diesel fumes are no good to anyone.

The silence was broken by the insistent, shrill metallic clanging of the double bells on top of the alarm clock, which woke me from sleep. I stretched out an arm to silence them, before lying cocooned in a bed, in which I would be sleeping in  for the next eighteen months. But this morning was my first morning waking up in this bed and the first day in my new job.

It was winter, a really cold winter and as I laid there in bed taking stock of my strange surroundings and stranger still the sounds from outside .The sounds of cattle in the yard moving about and bellowing after having already been milked, and accompanied by the cowman, hollering as he tries to move his herd of Friesian cows on.

As a lad living and growing up on a large council estate, situated in the middle of Gosport, a town, that still showed  the scars of the bombing from the second world war, these sounds were totally alien to my senses. There, I was more used to milk, finishing its journey to the doorstep accompanied by the sound of bottles being delivered in clanking metal crates. There was no hollering, just a tuneless whistle, repeated by the milkman over and over again.

Wearing my green striped pyjamas I slipped quickly out of bed, and due to the cold in the bedroom lost no time in  putting on my  new work clothes .Clothes which mum had ironed and packed away for me only the day before. Drawing back the thin curtains I exposed the dark  morning as the sun had still yet to rise and window panes, covered in frost ferns hinting at the cold to be faced outside.

I was lodging in a bothey on the estate of Maj Gen Renton, who employed a rather fierce lady (or it seemed to me at the time) to look after the bothey and cook the meals for the single men and boys. The General only had one arm, having lost it in the first world war. Apparently he was nick named, Wingy  by his men. Breakfast consisted of thick lumpy porridge followed by a cooked breakfast, ideal for keeping the cold at bay. Trouble was that breakfast was not until 9.00am and that was hours away.

Slipping quietly out of the door I headed for stables as I had been told, where I was to meet the foreman, Cliff, to receive my instructions for the day. On reaching the stables I discovered a gang of men, who were stamping their feet and thrashing their arms against their bodies trying to keep warm.

Cliff introduces himself and asks if I am the new boy?  Course he’s the new boy said one man. Look at them shiny new boots and look at that donkey jacket it ain`t never been worn. And he was right. Dad had recently taken me to Millets shop in Gosport and had me kitted out for my new job. He had also had the Snob (cobbler) as we called him to make me a leather belt with a brass buckle. Dad had been a working man all his life, so he was going to make sure that his son was ready clothed to start his working life.

On looking around the yard at my new fellow workers, lit only by the yellow glow from a few exposed light bulbs, it was obvious that I was the best dressed person there. The general impression was of a gang of ne er do wells and tramps dressed against the freezing cold; all in a collection of balaclavas and scarves with blue runny noses and breathe which hung in the cold air like smoke.

Most of the men were wearing heavy old overcoats, which had seen better days, with the finishing touch of a bit of hessian binder twine tied around the middle as a belt. Along with myself, the pig man stood out in the fashion stakes, as he was wearing a large hessian sack as an apron, once again tie with string, to protect him against the pig swill which he emptied into the pig troughs. If the tractor in the yard was replaced by a horse we could all have been a reincarnated scene from Victoria’s reign.

The buildings surrounding the cobbled yard, had previously contained farm carts but now housed bright red Massey Ferguson tractors. The stables still had a few old horse collars and bits of tack hanging up, which was a sad reminder of all the Dobbins, Hercules and Hectors that had filled these stalls after toiling and labouring in the fields, not so many years previously.

Orders were given and plans made for the day but due to the dark and cold, the men were loathe to leave the light and shelter offered by the stables. Reluctantly the tractor driver sat on his tractor and tried to start it but the engine refused to fire, due to the cold.” Bloody awkward old bitch “remarked the driver as he got of the tractor and lifted the bonnet.He sprayed an aerosol called Easy Start into the air intake and then turned the ignition key over again. Whaa,whaa,whaa ,it went then splutter, splutter,splutter ,before it roared into life ,filling the stable with stinking black  smoke, heavy with the smell of diesel.

Like ants in a nest poked with a stick, the men with many oaths vacated what up to a few seconds previously been there sanctuary, sallying forth to face the new day. Cliff turns to me and says” You follow me Alan to the orchard, so we can get you started”. With that he turned and went out of the yard with me following, just as the sun was coming up, illuminating  the tree branches  covered in air frost and the frozen puddles crunching beneath our feet.

In 1964 at the age of fifteen, earning the princely sum of £4,10s for a forty five hour week, I had left home to work as a trainee in Sussex on Major General Renton’s fruit farm.

This was my first real working day in my young life away from home and today aged sixty five; I see it and remember it as though it was as yesterday.


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