One day in your life, someone is going to say, ‘It would be fun to do fruit picking.'
Don’t listen to this person. Give them a dead-leg, if possible.
Why so psycho-serious, I hear you ask? Well, I’ve done some picking and some packing in my time. Where have I picked and packed? I know, you're thinking Denver, Milan, Bora Bora, and Bermuda.
I did it in Bundaberg. It’s a nice place if you close your eyes and ears and stay in your room at night. Venture out, and it’s the league of uri-nations, a hodge-podge of funky, lost, gorgeous, rat-arsed youths that would be more at home at an Ed Sheeran concert than on the streets of this sleepy, dusty, Mcleod’s Daughter’s throwback.
I picked in Scotland, and to be fair, that was much more fun. It was fun because I knew a smurf called Giedre who said things like, ‘You very bad boy,’ smiling, while I literally laid down on the job and ate the shit out of a strawberry bush.
In Scotland, no one can hear you pick but that's because thistles are appalling at acoustic insulation. No one can hear you get paid but that's mostly because you'd get paid more if you stood outside Edinburgh castle in the nude, shouting, ‘pay me!'
The people who say things like, ‘It would be fun to do fruit picking,' skate over pay-scales because they don't exist. Oh, there's pay; in Scotland, one pound, twenty pence a tray (not a punnet, a tray, i.e., 18 punnets.) In Queensland, it's a dollar per bucket of beans, or roughly eight to ten dollars a half day.
What you need, I used to say to some French dude, is an hourly picking gig. Which is what I got, and what lead me to yell at an old Italian man as he yelled at me while I was picking capsicums. He hung out of his ute, driving snail-paced as I made my way along the line, imploring me to pick like I'd never gone to Queensland, or had listened way too much to that Snow Patrol album. You know the one: it goes, ‘zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz, lay here, zzzz plop dunny-flush.’
So I’m packing the capsicum I first picked like some sort of Dr Seuss character. I’m half waiting for the Cat-in-the-Hat to show up but instead get the prat in the hat who tells me to get as many capsicums into the large boxes as possible.
‘It’s medium,’ I say, showing him a capsicum, and then tossing it into the middle box.
‘This is a large,’ he says.
‘A large what?’
‘A large.’ He takes it out, shows it to me. ‘A lar-je.’
I tell him Snow Patrol really coasted on their latest album. He tells me they’re one of the hardest working bands he's come across, and, while they've never picked capsicum, they were dropped by Jeepster in 2001, and they could have just packed it in, but didn't because they knew the difference between a medium and a large.
‘It’s a large,’ he says, holding up the capsicum. ‘Like in the movies, large,’ and then I toss it in the large box, thinking, I can’t wait to go back to my hostel, where, I recently found someone’s positive pregnant test in the shower.
You’ll notice I skated over job-specifics in this post. So here, in no particular order, are three celebrated moments in over three months of doing the horticultural shuffle over Europe's Castle Grayskull, and Australia's part of the garden where you go for a wee when you're busting but forgot your house key:
- Mentor at tomato packing plant in Bundaberg tells me that sometimes tomatoes look like ‘balls,’ and when that happens you should draw a dick on it and then roll it to the girls on the other side.
- Man in ute yells ‘Viva la France,’ at French Dude. He yells back, ‘I’m German!’ and then cuts particularly angrily at the stem holding the capsicum to the plant, as if to say ‘Australia needs less Robert G. Barrett and more Edward Said in its secondary reading curriculum.'
- My then-girlfriend feigns back injury to stop picking and packing despite the fact that we’re staying in a prison-themed backpackers, and so she'll be doing time day and night. I encourage her to see Shrek 3 with me one night, and it’s slightly better than picking capsicums.
It's now been ten years since I last picked and packed. Sometimes I miss the gang from these days. But they're never far away. When I'm lost, or lonely, I simply turn on Crime Stoppers and say, ‘I remember him!' before smiling wistfully, eating handfuls of strawberries by the punnet, and thinking about how Snow Patrol worked hard for the longest time before they found success.
I wish them well, those guys. It’s amazing what you see once you open your eyes.