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  • The winter months I had spent working in the fish-factories over on Dinish Island.

    The herring were running, the factories were hiring.

    Everyone with two hands and a strong back could work to shift the tons of fish being landed daily. Farmer’s wives, young women, able lads and lesser men crowded in from all over the peninsula to hump the fish-boxes, feed the conveyors, man the machines, process the fish, drive the fork-lift trucks, load the transportation lorries, clean the machinery, hose-down the bloodied surfaces and collect their pay; glad of the seasonal work and the chance to supplement their otherwise meagre incomes.

    The work was physically demanding and numbingly monotonous; the pungent, oily odour of congealed blood and fish offal penetrating every fibre of clothing, every pore of being. Worst of all was the numbing cold that turned feet to ice and hands to pink, raw, unfamiliarly painful appendages.

    At break-times I joined the other workers outside, it being warmer there than in the factory space, all stainless steel, blue-cold and white-tiled wetness.

    There was a poigniant beauty to the scene:

    The workers huddled together at the automatic overhead rolling door.
    The men wore cobalt-blue overalls and hats, white p.v.c. aprons and black wellington boots ; the women; white lab-coats, hygienic head coverings, white pvc aprons, rubber boot, and yellow rubber gloves.

    Clutching mugs of hot tea and stamping their feet, they joked and smoked and teased and talked, jostling for positions to catch the first weak rays of morning sun that broke beyond the metal cladding of the factory gable.

    Their fish-scaled aprons, like richly sequined costumes on opening-night; catching, glinting and reflecting the theatrically lit eastern horizon's winter solstice.
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