Monday, 28 September 2009

Grape expectations!

Sat in my favourite cafĂ© in Jersey, I’m about as far removed from grape picking as I can get. And yet, every now and then I catch myself grinning at one of the memories or events of the last couple of weeks. What a great experience!

A ‘motley crew of randoms’ is the easiest way to describe us. There was west country Charlie aka ‘Chopper’, Ben, Triso, Tone, Laura, Paul, Vicky, Josef, Harmen and the obligatory ‘weird’ Will. Add in the French team of ‘Arthur beard’ (as in ‘half a beard’), Bruno, Uncle Knob Head (middle-aged, letchy butcher), Lesbos and Bruce (as in Willis), and we were about diverse as you can get. Mixed in with hard work and more wine than you can imagine, we had ourselves a good recipe for great times.

The grape picking itself was arduous, backbreaking stuff (at least for the first few days) interspersed by song and jovial vulgarities. ‘9’s’ out in the field (a veritable feast of wine, meat, cheese and bread) were a great morning pick up. This was followed by wine stops every hour or so and a three course lunch (with wine!) so we were usually grape picking half cut making it an altogether more pleasant experience J

Everyone had their own techniques when it came to actually picking the grapes. Paul took on the ‘1,2 miss-a-few’ technique, Charlie was all about speed, everyone looked out for the shortest rows with the fewest grapes, whilst Ben always landed the longest rows with the most grapes (that was his excuse for lagging behind anyway!)

At the farm we were housed in dorms: a small 4-bed ‘girl’ dorm and a larger dorm for the lads. At first, we ‘the girls’ thought we had the better of the two dorms. That was until 11pm on our first night when we had our first ‘enlightening’ introduction to the French team. 

We’d just settled to go to sleep (in preparation for the 6am wake-up call) when our peace and tranquility was rather rudely disturbed by the arrival of the ‘boys next door’ – a bunch of middle-aged men who’d been out for a couple of drinks at the  local bistro and were residing in the room next to us.

Half an hour of belching and farting ensued, made worse when we laughed and they realized they had an audience on the other side of the paper-thin walls. And so it continued. This was our affectionate wake-up call every morning.

Key highlights of grape picking:

-       Will-isms – “did your past boyfriends ever hit you?” (random question when asking Laura about her upbringing), “how do you say ’obviously’ in French with a really sarcastic undertone?” (his second question to me after ‘What’s the word for bucket?”) 

-       The blackbird song (sung at full pelt in the middle of the vineyard)

Where be it blackbird to?

I know where he be,

He be up yon wurzel tree, and I be after he!

Now I sees he, and he sees I,

Bugger'd if I don't get 'en

Wit a girt big stick I'll knock 'im down,
Blackbird I'll 'ave he!

La la la la la la
La la la la la la

'Ow's 'e, Fadder?
[Audience Answer] Alright!

-       Robojob (as performed by Charlie…don’t ask!)

-       Pocket Sausage (sausage stored in pockets after 9’s for a mid-morning snack)

-       Cupboard Clothes (old clothes found in a cupboard in the boys’ dorm which were worn out in the field to great comic effect J )

In four days we all (bar ‘weird’ Will) became very close. Unfortunately, our grape picking experience came to an abrupt end just when we’d finally got over the back ache from bending over all da. At the end of the third day we were told by Jean-Pierre that there was only one more day left of grape picking. The rains had arrived so he’d hired more people than usual to get the grapes picked before they rotted. We were left in a bit of a pickle as we’d all booked tickets for the following week. The agency we’d used were useless and offered us no help at all. Charlie, Vicky and Paul managed to get a lift from a friend, Josef and Harmen headed back to Holland, Will….who knows, and Ben, Triso, Tone, Laura and I decided to head to Paris to try and change our tickets. And so our next adventure began…

A farmer called Jean-Pierre

Armed with just a phone number and my backpack, I arrived at the small train station of Belleville Sur Saone. I’d been told by the ‘grape picking’ agency to call ‘Jean-Pierre’ when I arrived. Well, as is the usual case when travelling, nothing ever goes quite as planned. The number didn’t work, it was getting dark and I had absolutely no idea how far the farm was from the station. I decided to sit it out and see if he would turn up of his own accord.

10 minutes later a pickup truck rocked up and out jumped a farmer type. A guy stood next to me asked in French whether he was Jean-Pierre, to which the farmer replied yes. ‘Great’ I thought, ‘Sorted!’

I introduced myself but the farmer drew a blank. My heart sank thinking bureaucracy had gone wrong somewhere along the line. Consulting my little black book I asked whether he was Jean-Pierre ‘Desmolle’. The confusion vanished. He explained that he was a different Jean-Pierre but that Jean-Pierre Desmolle was his neighbour and asked if I wanted a lift. I didn’t have to be asked twice...I couldn't believe my luck!

Chucking my rucksack into the back of the pickup, I thanked the God  of travel who was looking down on me once again!