October 22nd 1981

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Mr K picking

We arose with great expectations – a good chance we would be able to finish things off today.  Another icy morning – it had dropped to minus 4 overnight, + left a sharp frost.  It takes a good deal of willpower to force one out of bed on such a morning… + fortunately Val is possessed of sufficient for both of us.  There were just a few trees left up in the top corner of the orchard, + between us – Eddie, John the other regular, Val, + I – we soon polished them off.  Val + I then treated ourselves to the luxury of a hot lunch, since Mr K wasn’t around to transport our bin down to a few odd trees in another part of the orchard.  We heated up the curry that was left over from the night before – very nice it was too.  Then down to work again, on a few trees down by the adjoining gravel company – made for a noisy environment.  It was now mid-afternoon, so we came back to finish off a couple of scrawny trees… and maybe that was it!  Unfortunately, Mr K was able to deal our hopes a pretty savage blow, by telling us there were some more trees to do tomorrow – the wine saps, which usually required from 8 to 12 bins.  Rum ti tum.

Anyway, had a cup of tea to revive a couple of flagging spirits, finished off where we were working, + went home, earlier than usual.  And this evening it was that we had the cauliflower cheese, an island of cauliflower in an ocean of cheese sauce – Val is rather fond of the stuff, so tends to over-do it.  In the evening, we had thought of going into town, to go to a bridge club, but eventually decided against it – we thought it was a bit of a cheek, being just beginners, to attend just one meeting.  So instead we organised our own little card tourney.  We were able to think of 8 games for 2 people, + in the end it worked out at 4 games each, which I suppose is fair enough.  Val won Beat Your Neighbour, Contract Whist, Crib and Piquet – I won Pairs, KO Whist, Hokus Pokus, and Rummy.  By which time, as usual, we were knackered, so climbed into bed.

The account of our work is getting a bit “Are we there yet?” since clearly we (and, I am sure, you too) had had enough.  You are used, by now, to detailed descriptions of every meal; the same approach to the minutiae of card games is a stretch too far.  But, as I never tire of saying, the diary is as it is; all I am doing is transcribing it (and, it must be said) curling up with regular bursts of embarrassment.

October 21st 1981

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Of course, another day of picking, tho’ thankfully we are now approaching the end.  In fact, at one point today we did think it might be our last day of picking, since there didn’t seem to be many trees left, but that was not to be.  I broke the day at lunchtime to drive into town to perform some chores.  I had to post some cards to the mums; to call in at the library to check on West Ham’s progress (regress, in fact – they lost + slipped to 4th or 5th.)  Then to Safeway, to pick up a film we’d put in there for developing; to Woolworth’s to buy a new bulb for our torch; + finally the most important task of all, to deposit the cash we’d received from Mrs K.  It brought the total up to almost $1500 Canadian.  Pretty good, + more to come.  Then back, to join the merry pickers.

A few words about the silly things one does while picking.  Rob told us he frequently spotted an apple in the grass, + would bend down to pick it up, only to discover it was the red toe of his welly.  We would joke that he only discovered his error when he emptied his bag into the bin.  Val says that she has tried to pick her hand, + I once really confused myself by spotting an apple, grabbing it, turning it, + being disconcerted to see it wasn’t, in fact, turning – I’d clutched an apple immediately behind it.  But the best of all (I think) came today.  In the past I’d frequently climbed the ladder without wearing my bag, + very easy it was too.  But today, when I got back, I climbed the ladder, picked 2 apples, + dropped them down my front, before I realised I was bag-less!  Ho hum.

In the evening, I worked for an extra 20 mins while Val returned + lit the fire, + started the dinner.  We had cauliflower cheese, with absolutely masses of cheese sauce.  No we didn’t, we had curry – much too much of it in fact, so we shoved some in a dish + put it in the fridge.  A lazy evening – I finished “In Cold Blood” – an excellent book.

Managed to slip away for a bit, I note, as per usual, though at least it was me who stayed on for a while this evening.  Can’t say the apple adventures were quite as amusing as I clearly found them at the time – you had to be there, I suppose.

October 20th 1981

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My turn to provide breakfast in bed for Val this morning – the least I could do really.  And then to work, for a full day… more or less.  It was a bit difficult to get back in the swing of things again, + certainly neither of us was working at top speed.  My mind was full of the book I started to read last night – “In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote.  It’s really well-written, writing about incredibly dramatic events in a very low-key way.  In comparison with the Timothy Leary book, which deals in an over-dramatic way with the relatively mundane.  In any case, the characters, as Capote draws them, come alive, which is ironic, since most of them end up dead.  But then, don’t we all.

I left work a bit early, because I was really cold, + didn’t want to relapse.  So I trotted back + lit the stove.  We had to be fairly quick with our evening meal, because in the evening we were going out!  We had leeks + beans on toast – a Windrush favourite (and entirely appropriate to the name – + then out.  We called in first at Lakeview market to get some shopping + then to Okanagan College.  As part of their Community Education programme, they were showing a series of old Elvis Presley films.  We’d tried to see the first one, two weeks ago – that was when we had got stuck in the orchard – + last week we had entertained James.  Managed to find the theatre after wandering about – it reminded me of teaching evening class at Launceston – paid our $2.50 each, + went in – a nice small theatre.  Two shorts first, a pretty silly cartoon, with distinct racial stereotyping, along the “Cry Wolf” theme.  Then an anthology of stunts by what appeared to be the American equivalent of Norman Wisdom.  Amusing, even tho’ cursed with the most appalling voice-over.  Then the Elvis feature – “Viva Las Vegas”.  It was pretty dire – Ann Margaret was an appalling dancer, but there were a couple of good songs.

Hm – even though I’d claimed to work a full day, the “more or less” comment was revealing.  But I’m going to have to rein in  my comments on how little actual work I did, not least because the diary speaks for itself! Windrush was the name of Val’s family home.

October 19th 1981

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Still feeling a long way from my perky best, so after receiving breakfast in bed for the second morning running (what bliss!), I was left in bed while Val went off to work.  I promised myself that I’d  get up at 11, but I broke my word to myself (I’ve done it before) + stayed in bed till 11.30.  I’d spent the morning reading, finishing “Confessions of a hope fiend” by Timothy Leary – there were a couple of interesting sections, but basically it was a load of old rubbish, churned out, it seemed to me, to pull in a few dollars.  Anyway, got up, had a few more corn flakes, made a cheese sandwich to share with Val for lunch, + took the week’s tickets over to the farmhouse.  Then joined Val.  I’d thought I was feeling much better, but by the time I’d walked all the way up the hill to her, I was shattered + feeling very weak again.  Almost turned straight around + came back to bed, but stayed for a while + picked.  Val let me just take the low ones, so I wouldn’t have to use a ladder – tho’ I did venture up a few times, + I stayed till 4 o’clock.  The fresh air did me some good, but I was starting to feel clogged up, + had a headache, so decided to call it a day then.

I told Val dinner would be ready at 7, + so it was.  We had another spaghetti carbonara… sort of… which went down a treat.  Then we followed it up with pancakes, one just with syrup, the other livened up with banana + brown sugar.  Magic.  Then an early night.  We don’t play as many games as when Rob was around, partly because we’re a bit bored with card games for two – a chess set would be a good idea – + partly because there doesn’t seem to be the impetus to play when there are just  2 of us, + we see each other 24 hrs a day anyway.

Lazy old me once again; clearly I was aware that I was not pulling my weight, but that does not seem to have prodded me into doing much (just an hour or two of fairly desultory work, it appeared) about it.

October 18th 1981

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I hate Sundays – always have, always will, I expect.  I woke up this particular Sunday feeling dreadful, tho’ I must admit getting breakfast in bed again – hot milk on corn flakes, toasted muffin with raspberry jam, + tea – did improve my feelings somewhat.  Decided I should stay in bed, at least for the morning.  This produced mixed feelings.  Definitely the best thing for my health – it really is a stinking cold – but also have to confess the break from picking was very welcome.  And this produced feelings of guilt, especially with Val out working all day.  Ah well.  Turned off the radio at about 9.30, turned over, + slept pretty solidly till 12.30, tho’ I do have some vague recollections of a conversation between Vincent + Eddie.  Got up at 12.30 + peeled some potatoes at the same time as toasting some bread for lunch.  A mistake this, as I managed to burn two lots.  Cooked some soup for lunch, + went out to call Val in.

In the afternoon, I wandered up the orchard to say hello to Val, + then took a picture of some apples – what else?  Strolled up thro’ the gully + up into top field, where we’d camped.  It was really quite sad standing up there, seeing our filled-in fire hole, sprouting grass already.  It was a beautiful day again, mist like it had been when we arrived.  I stood on the fire-site + took a 360 degree panorama – it took 8 and a half shots, and everything was a bit too bright + hazy, but the place is so beautiful, it deserved commemorating.

Went down again to cabin + performed various chores – cleaning up, chopping wood.  Drove down to the store to buy some postcards plus one or two other little things + came back.  Val came I n really late, when it was virtually dark outside – she’d just had to finish a bin.  She’d done 4 and a half bins today… pretty amazing, tho’ it does rather highlight the weak member of the team.  Had a terrific meal – fish with a white sauce, potatoes + mixed veg, followed by rice pud.  With added sugar it’s as good as Ambrosia’s best.  I felt awful again, so into bed, + read.

Not an entry which reflects too well on me, but there you go. “Ah well,” as i wrote at the time. My guilt about Val working while I slept (all right, I had a cold, but still) did not seem to deter me from having a pretty lazy afternoon, going for a stroll, dealing badly with some light domestic chores, driving to the shop (again!)  Val tells me she was determined to show what she could do on the picking front.

October 17th 1981

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A real treat for breakfast – we’d bought some English muffins + raspberry jam – they were gorgeous.  However, + rather expectedly, the picking was extremely dull.  What do I think about all day?  It depends, of course – so many things have passed thro’ my mind during the last few weeks.  Sometimes it’s possible to keep one’s mind concentrated on picking – busy busy, keep moving, stop dreaming, 2 apples per hand, get all you can, then down the ladder, shift it, up again – but such times are rare, at least for me.  I believe I wrote before that I’ve thought quite a lot about my dad, and an idea I’ve had to write his biography.  More recently, + especially today, I’ve thought about my own past, often with a good deal of regret.  That, however, is a character flaw of mine – perhaps of everybody, I can’t say – that I regret much, or even most, of what I’ve done in + with my life.  For some reason, my mind has centred upon Culham, + people + events there, + today I was thinking particularly about Launceston, + in particular the college.  I expressed to Val the thought that perhaps I shouldn’t have left Launceston, + this upset her, since she was able to remember far more clearly than I did how depressed the teaching had made me.  Just another example of viewing the past thro’ rose-coloured specs, or more accurately, editing out the bad bits, leaving in the good.  She also thought that the manner of my leaving had spoiled any return.  Anyway…

I left work a bit early to find out what was on at the pictures, + to start dinner, tinned spaghetti.  To our disgust, for about the 4th Saturday running, there was a load of old rubbish on, so we thought we’d head down to the North 40 again, mainly for want of anything better.  Drove first to Mission Market to buy a few things, + just about then my cold, which still hadn’t gone away, really got to me.  Val agreed to go home, we made the fire again, + I went to bed with a book.  In a dreadful state, sniffling + sneezing.

Well, that was a bit of self-pitying introspection, wasn’t it?  Some explanations?  Culham was where I went to teacher training college, Launceston (in Cornwall) the place where I got my first teaching job.  And leaving had been both dramatic and traumatic.

Otherwise, notable for me skipping off work – again – it seemed I would take any opportunity to do so.

October 16th 1981

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I prepared breakfast for Val this morning, + then, as per usual, the plod to work.  Spent the morning finishing off a few trees close to the K’s house, with Eddie (the old guy who’s lived in the other half of our cabin for the last 40 years) + James.  James seemed to be in a lazy mood today – he spent most of his time standing underneath our ladder, chatting + spitting.  We’d brought the camera out today, so I took a picture of him, plus one of Val bending over a bin.  Her jeans have ripped right across the arse, so that they are now somewhat obscene – tho’ James thought they were sexy.

Then, at about 2, I received the luxury of some time off, to perform some errands, I hasten to add.  First drove to Mission Park + exchanged 12 empty bottles of beer for 12 full ones – with a slight cash adjustment.  Then a quick trip to the Post Office, to send off a card to Myrna, one to Pip, + to return a letter which had arrived for Rob.  Next stop was the bank, but the branch at Mission said there would be a delay if I deposited our money there, so I drove on to town.

When I returned, Mrs K told me it was alright, the camera had been found.  I was fairly confused.  It turned out that in the course of moving up to some new trees, taking a free ride on the tractor, the camera had dropped out of Val’s bag.  Ho hum.  However, eagle-eyed Vincent had found it.  After work, we drove straight into town – there was a book, record, + tape sale on in a shopping mall there.  We found it, after one false start, walking into a posh hotel foyer (complete with steaming pool) but there were few records + no tapes.  However, bought a couple of books, + drove back to Safeway to drop off a film + buy some groceries.  Discovered for the second time running, we’d pulled out a 36 exposure film after 24 – pretty damn stupid.

Home, + an omelette (delicious) shared with James – it was his last night, he was moving on.  Also had some beers, some stewed apple, + a joint (the grass courtesy of Rob, bless his little cotton socks.)

Not really obscene, in retrospect, but mildly disturbing that James found the view sexy, all the more so since he was commenting on the real event, not the photograph, (which would not return from developing for some weeks.)  The comment about the 36 exposure film will soon mean very little, I fear; the idea of having to load film into a camera in advance, and then remove it carefully afterwards, and not be able to tell the quality of the photos, or indeed (in this case) how many there were, does seem positively archaic now, but that was what you had to do.

October 14th/15th 1981

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Testing the produce

Don’t really know what to say about these 2 days… They were a Wednesday+ Thursday…  We ate granola with banana for breakfast, followed by tea + toast… Val has much more willpower than I have, she seems to be able to get out of bed.  Tho’, to be fair, we generally prepare breakfast in bed for each other on alternate mornings, so that must mean I struggle out every so often…  We picked from 9 o’clock till about 6 or a little after, breaking only for a quarter hour lunch of Mars bar + an apple.  Generally speaking, I’m more than ready to stop work by the time we’ve picked 6 bins, but Val usually wants to work on, +, in order not to appear the wimp of the century, I carry on.

I have to agree with the younger me, I don’t know what to say either.  Once again, I do not cast myself in the best of lights, but my self-criticism would seem, pretty clearly, to be entirely justified.  More of a hindrance than a help.


October 13th 1981

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Val picking out the bits of twig

Just to polish off yesterday properly – there wasn’t room to include this.  I’d developed a rotten cold, + by the end of yesterday evening was in a pretty poor state, somehow driving home with a sneezing fit going on.  In any case, come the morning I was still feeling pretty rough, so I stayed in bed till about 10, dozing, finishing my book, + generally feeling sorry for myself.  Struggled up + went out to work with Val for a while, but I don’t think I was a lot of help, and at a little after 12 I came back to the cabin, made myself a cup of tea + a cheese sandwich, + sat reading the National Lampoon magazine, an old copy of which was lying around the cabin.  It’s like a dirty version of Punch, + there was some good stuff in it.  I rejoined Val at about 2, feeling considerably better, + we both worked really well, in order to be able to finish 6 bins.

We started dinner, + I popped down to the store to get some shopping.  My main reason was to buy a newspaper to find out how West Ham did – it served me right, there was no result.  Then I went to fetch James for supper, but he’d obviously given up on us, + had already eaten.  He still came round, + shared some spaghetti with us.  He was OK, but his English is pretty limited, so it’s difficult to have a proper conversation, even more difficult to relate by humour, my first means of communication.  In any case, however churlish it may seem, we were rather relieved when he went.

Got a letter from mum yesterday, sounds as tho’ she had a good holiday.  Says she wonders how we’ll settle down when we get home.  I wonder the same thing.  I’ve almost decided to at least try for a decent drama school – I think I’ve hated very nearly every job I‘ve ever tried, so I might as well have a go at doing something I enjoy.

Yet another day of me missing work.  And I was feeling sorry for myself – when was it ever different!? That old sense of humour thing comes up again; it really does seem to be my only way of getting through to anyone, certainly the main measure that I use to judge them.

As for drama school, well, that didn’t happen either.  Though probably just as well, knowing what I now know of how difficult it is to make any sort of a proper living.  On the whole, I am not unhappy at the choices I have made with my career, and have probably been more involved with theatre than if I had tried to be an actor.  But who’s to say?

October 11th/12th 1981

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Oct 11th, Sunday, was a flat day, tho’ I must admit it wasn’t like Sundays I’ve always hated.  Just at the moment, getting up late, reading the Observer and tackling the crossword, eating + recovering, from a hefty roast beef dinner, + then lazing around doing nothing for the rest of the day, does seem rather attractive.  But back to the matter in hand.  A slightly later start to the day, + then the usual half-dozen bins, finishing at 6.30, by which time it was dark.  Our Sunday dinner was a vegetable curry – it wasn’t quite as nice as the one we’d had before, but it was missing out on a couple of items.  And then some reading + writing before bed.

And then, Thanksgiving Day… the Canadian version anyway.  Our third holiday in America, + probably the most hard-working of the lot.  Once again, we worked all day – once Val had coaxed me out of bed after serving me breakfast in it.  There’s been a French Canadian called James working here for the past few days – he approached me today + asked if it would be possible to come round for a meal.  I said yes, but we’re a little worried about him making a habit of it – we don’t think we want to surrender our new-found privacy so easily.  Rob was different, sort of part of the family.  In the evening, we got dressed up (as much as we can) + went out for a turkey dinner.  The first couple of places we tried were shut, + we nearly resorted to a pretty grotty chain restaurant, but fortunately we chanced upon a restaurant that was much nicer – the Baron’s Table, it was.  A sort of buffet, where you could serve yourself, as much as you want.  We gorged ourselves silly – salad, meat + veg… twice!… fruit salad.  Then we ordered one special coffee, + they gave us another on the house!  Broke but stuffed, we struggled home.

I feel a little bad that we were so mean about James; I really do think that we were grieving about Rob, and that it seemed wrong to replace him so quickly.