Living on an orchard – the highs and lows of apple picking

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So we had chosen the orchard! We arrived on our big old coach into the eastern coastal city of Napier. Having suffered a really bad earthquake in 1931 the city’s architectural landscape is made up of a large number of Art Deco buildings and has become the self-titled Art Deco capital of New Zealand. The bus dropped us off in the centre of town where we were picked up by the orchard’s owner Dave. He took us straight to the local supermarket to pick up our weekly shopping as where we were staying was in the arse end of nowhere. It was the most awkward thing, having him waiting for us and peering over our shoulder while we had to impulse buy all our food very quickly. I’d not yet become familiar with what I did and didn’t like from New Zealand supermarkets and so this was a very hard thing to do in such a short space of time. I ended up buying some cereal he recommended that looked like crap and once I tried it, I discovered that it was, in fact, crap. We came away with the cardboard and fruit crap as well as our standard choice of cheese sausages, pasta and sauce. If you haven’t had cheese sausages, don’t knock them until you try them. What’s not to love about sausages with cubes of cheese in… No, it’s not weird. We also bought cheese (gotta love the cheese), ham and bread for our lunches. It’s no wonder that even with more exercise a day than I have ever done in my life, I became pretty porky while working here. After the crap cereal had gone our breakfast of choice became ‘Weet-bix’ which should be the same as Weetabix but it’s not, it’s just better. In then end, I was starting my day with 6 of these coated in about 3 heaped spoonfuls of sugar. Yes, very porky.

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Anyway, once we’d bought enough shit to clog our arteries up with, Dave drove us to the Orchard to show us to our room. I remember being shocked as it hadn’t full registered that we would be living on the actual Orchard itself. It was a converted barn with the rows of apples trees lining either side. It comprised of one main room, which was a mash up of living area, kitchen and dinning room and then our rooms where just next to it followed by a bathroom at the end and one outside toilet. Completing the complex was a lovely bit of green decking with a long picnic bench on it and a BBQ at the end. This would be our happy place. Our room was small and simple and the bed was a bunk bed but with a double bed on the bottom. Much like the one sleepy sleeperson had in Paihia. It was very basic but private and had enough natural light that I was quite content with our little space that would be home for the foreseeable future. As Dave left us, he handed me all the bed lined to put on the bed #everydaysexism. Of course, after he left, Tom being the modern day gentleman that he is, helped me to put it on. We were completed in the middle of nowhere, but I really liked it already. Taradale was the nearest town and Napier the nearest city and we’re given bicycles to use to get ourselves around. It was such a different way of living, peaceful and simple. There was something so great about standing in the dusty path surrounded by green and barely being able to hear a thing except the distant humming of machinery in our neighbouring orchards and the causal tweeting of birds.

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Our room

We met Violette first. She was in the kitchen washing up and then her boyfriend Jean casually and coolly strolled in to meet us. They were the loveliest and the most chilled out people I’ve ever met and remain this way to this very day. I had no idea that day that I would remain in touch with them and even go on to visit them in Brussels. Tom and I simply referred to them as The French. Because we were imaginative like that. The second couple on our orchard were The Germans (again, cryptic nicknames), Henrik and Alena. I’ve never seen Henrik and Alena again since the day they left the orchard and that’s fine by me. The final member of our new apple picking family was someone who I haven’t seen since I left New Zealand but if it was physically possible I definitely would have. Claudia, a carefree, fun-loving and I think fair to say slightly bonkers Brazilian, who still lives in NZ, would become my best friend while I lived here. I really needn’t have worried about making friends. 3 lifelong friends out of 5 ain’t and bad for the first go is it?!

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The road leading up to the orchard

I don’t know why but when thinking about this job it hadn’t occurred to me that I would need to climb a ladder! I had this image in my head of me strolling along with my basket humming a Disney-esque tune and casually plucking each apple off the tree. This was not the case. It was fucking hard! It was hot, so very very hot and we had this picking bucket, that went over your shoulders, strapped to our fronts, making it relatively difficult to move around. So in this heat, with a big plastic bin stuck to you, you had to manoeuvre a big tripod ladder as far into the tree as it would go. Then you would have to climb said ladder, awkwardly pushing your belly bin to one side while battling the bastardly spiky branches which constantly tried to scratch your skin off and poke your eyes out just to reach the bloody apples and then carry the fuckers ‘carefully’ all the way back down through the descent of hell again! Why hadn’t we picked the hostel! This painful routine, which felt you were going to either be killed off by trees, the sun or the ladder, was to be repeated constantly from 7:30 to 4:30 every day and in that time, you had to ‘carefully’ fill at least 6 ‘bins’ between two people. When I had seen the word ‘bin’ online, naturally I was thinking wheely bin. Turns out ‘bins’ are massive wooden crates. Who bloody named them bins! So this was fun! In addition, to ensure that the apples are indeed ‘carefully’ looked after, the overlords rock up frequently on their tractor to check on them and perform some sort of any bruising test. This was going to be my life for the next three months, and to be honest after that first day I really thought we wouldn’t be able to do it. I instantly regretted what we had signed up for. I hadn’t done a day of hard labour in my life and now my livelihood depended on it. At this point I also didn’t know that I would like an of these people who we know had to live with in close proximity both in the working day and non-working day. It was going to be tough and I had started thinking about escape routes as we all slumped knackered on the decking just trying to catch up with ourselves. Then Jean came out of the kitchen with a load of cold beers. We cracked them open and started chatting, getting to know each other as the sun went down and the air got cooler and suddenly everything felt alright. In fact, more than alright, I could just get used to this and get used to it we would. Amazing what a cold beer can do.

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