SHORT STORY: Strawberry Field by Diana Ashman

Strawberry pickers at Sarisbury Green PPP-141017-144332001
Strawberry pickers at Sarisbury Green PPP-141017-144332001
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My parents were strawberry growers. We lived in a Hampshire village called Hook, near Warsash. Dad had inherited an acre of land when his dad was killed in an accident on a nearby farm. I was only 18 months old, mum and dad were only in their early twenties.

Their life was about to change, as they took the big decision to take on the task of growing strawberries. A new chapter was about to begin. I loved it, what more could a child want?

Strawberry pickers hard at work in Hampshire, undated PP3372 PPP-140430-154411001

Strawberry pickers hard at work in Hampshire, undated PP3372 PPP-140430-154411001

I had it all, freedom to run and play all day. Why is it that the days seemed longer, and the summers warmer, when you’re a child?

My dad worked full time even though he had decided to take on the strawberries, he would leave about 6am and ride his bike to Solent Breezes, a holiday site on the Solent. So, it was mum, and my nan who worked the strawberry field Mondays to Fridays, dad worked evenings, and weekends.

The morning sun was still low in the sky and there was a dampness on the grass. In our privet hedge spiders’ webs looked like diamonds had been dropped in them. They sparkled in the sunshine.

Across the road was my oak tree, well that’s what I called it. It was a place I would sit and I felt safe up there. Looking back, I spotted nan. She was coming along the lane, her navy blue cardigan a blur, flapping outstretched behind her as she pedalled her way to our house.

Diana Ashman

Diana Ashman

I would open the gate to let her ride straight into the garden. ‘I’m late,’ she puffed, ‘come on, let’s find your mum, we need to get going’. Our day was about to begin.

We walked to the field. Mum would carry a large brown canvas bag with tea, milk, and sugar inside. There was a bottle of brown thick liquid called Camp coffee, I didn’t like that, such a strange taste; biscuits, two packets, custard creams and bourbons. I used to like to dunk them in my tea. Half would drop into my cup and I’d scoop it out with a spoon. Once I had finished my tea, we would have sandwiches, today it was egg rolls.

Calling at the shop en route, it was a café as well, there would be two or three huge lorries parked outside. The men were having a cup of tea before starting work in the gravel pit up the road. Mum knew them all, most were neighbours.

Buying a Wagon Wheel and a bottle of Sunkist orange, we set off; I was gone, running in the direction of the footpath at the bottom of the hill, mum calling me to keep on the grass in case something came around the bend. Standing by the entrance to the footpath, I waited for them to catch up. It was wet even in the summer. You had to tread carefully or your shoes filled with smelly mud.

The air was cool on my face, and the smell of boggy marsh rushed up my nose. To the right of the path, trees and ferns grew; it was marshland, mum would remind me saying, ‘remember, don’t go out there you will sink’, then she would tell me again. It was once the river Fleet and if the sluice gates down by the shore were open, the water would return. I really didn’t understand, so would smile and say that it would wash all the king cups away.

The other side was covered in brambles, hidden underneath were pale yellow primroses, their leaves green and crinkly. Nan had given me a small picture book with wild flowers in it. She would tell me the names, so many, I just wanted to find them all.

Reaching the gate, there before me, looking like a big sparkling lake, was the strawberry field, the sun reflecting on the glass cloches, so bright, it made me squint. The whole field was full, top to bottom with strawberry plants; the field was surrounded by sycamore trees which made the field very sheltered.

In the distance stood dad’s black shed. Heading that way, walking up the side of the field, with the sun feeling warmer, it was still only 8.30am, I was quite excited. The shed now open, mum was sorting out the punnets. They had to be put into wooden trays. Afterwards she would stack some at the top of the lines, and some half way down.

Nan had the kettle on the Primus and the biscuits in the tin. The milk was now in a bucket of water under dad’s bench. Mum’s head appeared in the doorway. ‘A quick cuppa, then it’s work,’ she smiled. ‘Have you seen the amount of fruit out there, I think we will have to call in your grandad to help tomorrow.’ She gave me a wink. They both walked off, wooden trays in hand, lunch would not be until 12.30pm.

Mum called out: ‘What are you going to get up today?’

I looked towards the huge straw bales stacked by the side of the shed, and some old planks of wood. ‘Oh, not sure yet mum.’

But I had already thought about making a camp inside the bales. I could have my lunch in there and, after, if mum lets me, I was hoping to take my flower book and find some wild flowers.

My day was full of adventure down at the strawberry field and it didn’t stop there, because when I got home, I would be going up my tree, until I was called in for my supper, and tomorrow it would start all over again,

•Diana Ashman started writing poetry while living in the south-west of France. She moved back to Warsash in 2012 and has self-published two poetry books.

This is the latest in the series of short stories written by members of the 390-strong Portsmouth Writers’ Hub. Send your short story to the Portsmouth Writers’ Hub via e-mail to hubinthenews@gmail.com. For more information check out the Portsmouth Writers’ Hub on Facebook.