Sunday, 5 March 2017

Keeping up with the plum line in a French factory

Moissac (France) - August

       After the stapling incident (see previous blog post A French hospital visit ), I worked the rest of the week at the factory in France on the one till eight pm shift. My co-workers were not particularly friendly and, as I had feared, I found little opportunity to practise my French. Three times during the shift, the supervisor would hit a large button and the machinery would grind to a halt. Everyone would troop outside to perch on two long benches facing one another. There we’d sit pretty much in silence, munching on snacks whilst the hot sun glared down on us and reflected off the concrete jungle all around. After just ten minutes it would be back to the monotonous treadmill.

The plum line

        At one end, plums would pour onto a conveyor belt. This passed four women (two on either side) who removed any of the fruit with bruises or other defects. I soon learnt that this was the most coveted task since it was done sitting and involved the least manual labour. Being new and only there for a month, I was naturally considered the lowest of the low and never got a look in. The plums then rolled onto the second piece of machinery where they were channelled onto the third and final part. Here they dropped into small wooden crates which were fed empty into the machine on one side and shot fully loaded out of the other side.

        Mostly, I’d work on the second section ensuring the plums continued through the machinery in an orderly fashion. This meant I spent most of my time clawing back handfuls of plums to ensure that they went through one by one and didn’t clog up the machine. I should point out at some point that the word ‘plum’ translates as ‘prune’ in French, another one of those crafty false friends. (See previous blog post German false friends ) The English ‘prune’ is ‘pruneau’ in French. In a similar way, grapes become ‘raisins’ in French and the English raisins become ‘raisins secs’ (dried raisins).

A race against plums

It goes without saying that I was kept far away from the stapling section. Occasionally, I would be put to work feeding empty crates into the machinery. There were four areas through which to insert the boxes each with a conveyor belt leading into it. When there was a lull in the amount of plums coming through, I would manage to get quite a few crates lined up ready on the conveyor belts. At other times, the crates would shoot into the machine and my lines of waiting boxes would rapidly diminish. I would have to race between them trying desperately to always have at least a couple of crates on each conveyor belt. I often got nail bitingly close to losing the race against the onslaught of plums. 

        I felt like I was in one of those Saturday evening family game shows. The kind where the Dad has to keep thirty plates all spinning on sticks for two minutes. If he fails to reach a wobbling plate and it smashes to the ground, then he loses the promised campervan, widescreen television and food processor. If I failed to keep all four conveyor belts fed with empty crates, then hundreds of plums would fall to the floor and I would likely lose my job. Fortunately, however, I always managed to just about keep one step (or rather one crate) ahead of the game.

1 comment:

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