Hop Picking

By Eric Streeton

Hopping, why is it this one word conjures up so much nostalgia in so many people? I think the words unique atmosphere sums it up quite nicely. The feel of a damp chill in the air, the dew on the hop bines and bins. That shower of dew that fell on you when the first bines of the day were pulled. The smell of fires wafting across the gardens where pickers are brewing their mid-day tea. Have you ever tasted Tea brewed in a Billie Can? I have, there is nothing to compare with it, nectar of the gods.

Also just the smell of the hops, the laughter, and the good hearted banter of all the other pickers and farm hands. Very often as soon as you arrived in the garden you were greeted with, “Morning, proper hopping morning isn’t it?” Its still used as a greeting nowadays by some people at this time of year. Then as the day progressed you would hear, “Fluff them hops up young-un here comes the measure man.” This meant that you dived both your hands into the bin and lifted the hops up and set them back down again to loosen them up a bit. They were measured in a bushel basket by volume and not by weight. The measure man knew a few tricks of his own though. He would get his own back by pushing the hops tighter into the basket, or heaping them up into a mound above the top of the basket. This nearly always led to confrontation, with the air turning blue more often than not. “Come on mate they are only meant to be pea measure, not heaped up like that.” “O.K. then misses you get some of those leaves picked out! before I measure any more from your bin.” If there were a couple of young mums with toddlers working together, they would have a half bin each, that way they would not get left behind. If they were a bigger family they would have a full bin to pick into. More often the older children would pick into a box or upturned umbrella. Very often being told, “Come on, get them hops scratched off, were not here for the benefit of our health you know, is that it then, is that all you have picked? Come on, get a shape on! Oh well every little helps I suppose, as the old lady said when she!” Well we all know the ending of that old saying so I won’t put it into print.

Talking of old sayings, what about, having a head like a bushel basket. This usually described a very severe hangover. Could the reference be to a bushel of hops, but taken in liquid form?

As a youngster my Mum was not a hard task master, so this left time for us to explore the Gardens and Farm buildings creating one adventure after the other. Then you would hear those immortal words, “No more bines to day.” This meant only one thing, It was nearly going home time. We lived not more than two miles away from the gardens, so we walked there and back. Always by the most direct route though, along the road, across the fields, and over one of those nine inch wide planks that spanned nearly every ditch you come to. What about the knack of crossing over these? Did you take a run at it and get over as quick as you could or did you use the more cautions approach? Your arms out wide, one foot forward then bring the back foot to the front foot, nice and slowly.

We always arrived home both tired and hungry, we then had the problem of removing hop strains from our hands, and to sooth scratched fore-arms, which had been caused by the bines if you had been foolish enough to have had your sleeves rolled up. Then Mum started work all over again preparing a cooked meal for us all!

Oh Happy days! Or were they?