The life and times of an Aceitunero
I’ve now lived here, in Andalucia, Spain for a few weeks more than 17 years. The time really has flown by and it seems like a few minutes since we took possession of our house in the middle of open fields and olive groves.
There have been good times, bad times, happy times and really weird times; most of which I wouldn’t change for the world.
I have made some screaming cock-ups when it comes to the Spanish language, or, should I say, the Andalucian language because one has no bearing on the other. It’s like Scouse or Geordie to the English language.
One of my most silly linguistic mistakes was asking for “Una Bolsa de Perros“ instead of “Una Bolsa de peras” the first being “A bag of Dogs” instead of “A bag of Pears”. It gave the girl in the shop a bloody good laugh though.
Another was when the next door neighbour, my friend Javier, asked my father-in-law and myself if we would “¿Quieres venir por las cerezas?” (would you like to come for Cherries?) which I misread as “¿Quieres venir por cervezas?” (would you like to come for beers?) we spent the next three hours picking Cherries!
There have been many more since but my neighbours are used to me now, I’m their version of Officer Crabtree off’ ‘Allo! Allo!’.
Officer Crabtree is a fictional character in the BBC sitcom ‘Allo ‘Allo!, which ran from 1982 to 1992; he was played by actor Arthur Bostrom. In The Return of ‘Allo ‘Allo!, it was revealed that the character was partly based upon Edward Heath, who spoke fluent French, but with an obviously English accent.
One day I became an ‘acietunero’. One of my most daft ideas was to agree to help my friend Javier to collect his olive harvest. This really was a stupid idea and for many reasons.
- I was coming up to 60 years of age
- I had done no manual labour for more than 20 years or more
- My friend Javier has olive groves in areas the size of Luxembourg! (I was going to say Wales but everyone uses that analogy)
- I hate being cold and wet (something that I realised in my years in the Army)
We all know what olive oil is but I’ll bet not many will know how it gets produced?
Producing olive oil
In times gone by, neighbours would gather together with 3m long poles and large nets. The nets would go beneath the olive trees and the neighbours would wallop the trees for all they are worth until all the fruit is collected. They would do this until all of the trees were fruitless.
Today, nothing much has changed, except now there are mechanical devices to help. Such as tractors with vibrating arms and small vibrating devices similar to a strimmer. You still have people, with nets and poles, whacking the hell out of the trees.
If you have ever flown over Andalucia and looked down, you would see row upon row, mile upon mile of olive trees. You can bet that every one of them has had the snot beaten out of them to get the olives.
On one occasion, we were up against the side of a mountain, on a 45º slope, dragging a bloody great big net and trying to keep our footing whilst hitting the trees with 3m long poles. It was not too dissimilar to something from ‘Its a Knockout!’ the TV game show.
Olive oil picking ain’t easy!
I’ve done some hard graft in my time, including working on the railway tracks but it is a walk in the park compared to getting in the harvest. 5 hours work, half an hour for lunch and then another 3 hours until finishing time. Tree after tree, after tree.
To my utter astonishment, I lasted from November through to March.
There were positive sides to my time as an olive picker. My knowledge of Andalucian profanities improved, as did my understanding of certain derogatory phrases. The views from some of the olive groves were absolutely amazing. Imagine sat most of the way up a mountain, eating your lunch and being able to view the most beautiful scenery in Spain.
The team I worked with included a Romanian and his wife when they were not working, they argued or spent their time jabbering in Romanian. Miguel the Gypsy boy, he was just 5ft tall, smoked strange tobacco 😉 and referred to me as ‘Ronnie’, ‘Roddy’, ‘Ruby’, ‘Robin’ and god knows what else.
One day, having had enough, I told them all I had changed my name to ‘Pedro’. It didn’t work. Miguel knew only one word of English ‘ fifty-five!” which he would shout if I asked him anything. Don’t ask me why because I don’t know.
There was another Miguel we called ‘Juan’, we called him ‘Juan’ so as not to confuse anyone with the gypsy Miguel.
Juan could speak English but din’t say much in either language. Jose Luise was the man in charge and, now and again, he would break into song, the same song and just the same verse. As you can imagine, those long, hard days just flew by.
Olive picking is an international thing
Other helpers came and went, such as Dennis the Argentinian. I know what you are thinking, what is an Argentinian doing calling himself ‘Dennis’? He explained that his mother had heard the name of an English film and liked it.
There were a couple of Ukrainians, a lad from Portugal, some students and a few blokes from the Eastern European countries. A real mixed bag.
It was bloody hard graft and the people who do this work have my total respect. I have never looked at an olive in the same light since. I have also learned never to volunteer for ANYTHING!