“many ugly strawberries”

12, strawberries in denmark

#12 of 30. Denmark, the summer of ’95, strawberries, adidas shorts, and those coins with the holes in them. I was only nineteen, but I felt like an old man of nineteen. I learnt a lot of things. I learnt that when traversing Copenhagen station (or any train station), have a bag that has wheels, or at least some sort of discernible shape, one that doesn’t look like you’re hauling a body bag with a live body in it on your shoulders. It took me approximately a day and a half to reach the strawberry farm in the south of the island of Funen from Victoria station in London, which seems an extraordinary amount of time now that we live in the age of budget airlines and long bridges. In 1995, the dreaded Eurolines buses were the way to go, and Denmark was a nation of many ferry rides. It took almost 24 hours to reach Copenhagen, and from there I went via a mixture of trains, ferries, locals buses and a lift from a chip-shop owner, until I pitched my tent in the dark, and proceeded to spend the rest of the summer picking strawberries, busking in the street with my fellow jordbærplukkers and writing postcards.

Sometimes the picking was not good. The farmer, Bjarne (who I was told was nicknamed the Terminator because of his voice), would inspect each punnet, and if he didn’t like what he saw he would admonish you with the slow mechanical line, “many ugly strawberries”. Usually, ugly ones would be eaten mid-pick, since they were juicier, or even used for jam, but you were paid by the kilo, so more often the jordbærplukkers would hide big fat ugly ones under nice tender pretty ones. On the other hand, a nice punnet of shiny, shapely strawbs would be rewarded with a cool “many beautiful strawberries”. Sometimes the work would be frustrating, cold, back-breaking, sometimes it would be hot, back-breaking and frustrating. Often it would be fun though; the other jordbærplukkers, plucked from around the UK and Europe, were a great laugh. Sometimes we would meet the raspberry pickers from a nearby farm, sometimes hang out with locals, such as ‘Scouse’ Claus, who spoke in a broad Liverpool accent but had never been anywhere near the Mersey (he did work on a ferry though). People are very friendly in Denmark, the friendliest country I’ve ever been to.

It really did put me off strawberries though. I had nightmares about them, giant strawbs chasing me down the street, big piles of them every time I closed my eyes. That horrible red juice would just not wash from my hands, leaving me scrubbing like Macbeth for days after the last berry was picked. What little money I had left as the strawb season closed i used to jaunt around the country for a few days, first to Århus in the north, finally to Copenhagen, where I forewent a night in a packed and sweaty hostel, preferring to spend my last few kroner locking up my unwieldy luggage at the station and crooning in a karaoke bar, where locals bought me drinks and told me stories. When the sun came up, I got on a bus to England, with only a single krone left. I put that coin on a piece of string I found, and wore it all the way home, and for some time afterwards. I wonder where it is now.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s