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Around The Sun: Grape Harvest

Steve Harrison does a spot of grape picking in southern France.

Life isn’t about arriving. The journey is the adventure.

I have never been so glad to see France in all my life as I was when I stepped off the boat from North Africa.

I was penniless, though I found a way of getting something to eat. I hovered outside restaurants, watching people as they ate. Sometimes they would pay up and leave, and half a meal was still on the table. I would dash in and finish it for them.

A friend of mine, Douglas, was working in Düsseldorf. He had a good job there and I thought I might also find work. Out onto the road I went, stuck out my thumb, and got a lift with three American girls who were heading for Avignon to pick grapes. I went with them to the farm of Mr Hoppe. He took a liking to me and hired me on the spot. My accommodation was an old barn which I shared with cows, goats, sheep and chickens. Surprisingly it contained a four-poster bed in which, exhausted, I slept night after night.

A chorus of sounds from hungry animals awoke me ever morning. I was given an enormous breakfast, then it was off to the vineyards for a day of back breaking work. We had a two hour break for a mid day meal, which was accompanied by red wine. Then back to the fields until dark. In the evenings we sat around a big table, eating and drinking like kings and queens. Then sleep, and all too soon the crowing of the cockerel was waking us to another day of labour.

Grape picking is fun in the sun, but the work is unkind to backs. Mr Hoppe's father joined us each day, working harder than any of us. He daily smoked three packs of strong French cigarettes, bounding about like a young man. “Aren’t you worried about lung cancer?'' I asked him. "No,'' he replied. "I started smoking before they invented that disease.”

When we gathered around the dining table we were only allowed to speak French. I quickly gained a grasp of the language. It was either that, or go hungry.

At the end of the grape picking season Mr Hoppe arranged for me to travel with his son to the German border. I was paid handsomely for the grape picking and had money when I joined my friend in Dusseldorf. We had a great time sampling the German beers in that city's fine old bars.

I had got it into my head to go to Amsterdam, having heard stories of sex, drugs and rock and roll. Doug accompanied me to the city of sin, and we had a great old time. Of all the cities in Europe, Amsterdam is my favourite. It surpassed what my imagination had led me to expect.

I didn't want to go back to dreary old England, but I had heard of a new airline established by Freddy Laker which was offering cheap flights to the USA. I took the ferry to Dover, a train to London, and there applied for a visa to enter the United States.

Then I went home to Yorkshire to see my mum and dad.

A week later I was on a flight to Los Angeles.


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