Trolley Life

Strawberry-picking? I remember it all rather fondly now, but others will not. These were the pickers who had been brought in specially. They had brown skins, and they picked very fast, and they never had a `dirty row' ...

Suddenly everyone seems to be talking about ethical shopping.

"We have animal-friendly products and environmentally-friendly products, so it's about time we had people-friendly ones too," said Liz Orton, from the charity Christian Aid.

The idea is to be sure that the people behind any given product have laboured in decent conditions for a decent wage. It's a radical thought - as is their campaign to get supermarkets to monitor such things - and one that made me think of strawberries.

Most people equate these with Wimbledon or champagne, or even Ingmar Bergman, but I do not. This is because I spent every summer, from the age of 11 to 16 or so, picking them. My friends and I did this for pocket money and fun, but mostly because everyone else did it too. So from the moment we gathered in the car park at 6.30am - smelling very sweet indeed in our layers of strawberry-flavoured clothing - the air was thick with intrigue. Who would sit next to whom on the bus? Who would be my row partner? Would that double-crosser Sheldon Squires really find a new girlfriend by the end of the day?

By 7.30am we were at work - or, at least, pretending to be. There are two ways to pick strawberries. There is the efficient and back-breaking way of straddling the row and leaning over. Or there is the lazy way of sitting to one side and scooting along on your bum.

Sometimes we gave up entirely and would lie down flat, gossiping away in our secret and strawberry-scented place until the row monitors found us and made us start picking again. The monitors - many of whom were our older brothers and sisters - were there to inspect our work, and if they shouted "dirty row", then we'd have to start again.

We were back home in time for the afternoon soaps.

I remember it all rather fondly now, but others will not. These were the pickers who had been brought in specially. They had brown skins, picked very fast, kept to themselves and never had a dirty row. When they went home, it was to an disgusting hut on the farm.

At the end of the season I would spend my money on something exciting - not many girls of 12 could afford an aquarium and a Kenny Rodgers LP - but the hut people never splurged, because their season never ended.

It is illegal to hire kids now, but I'm sure that the hut people remain, in one form or another, somewhere.

In a perfect world it wouldn't be left for supermarkets to monitor such things, but a survey by the Henley Centre shows that they are trusted more than politicians (about 68 per cent, compared to a measly 10 per cent).

Radical? Perhaps. But shopping - and, for me, strawberries - would be sweeter for it.

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