Expect the unexpected. Be ready to let memories flow, triggered by the most extraordinary circumstances, events, chance meetings, 'blasts from the past.' Write the stories that come to your mind. Here's one.
Back in the late 70's I worked at McFarlane's Fisheries, packing oceans of schnapper for export and earning money for university. McFarlane's was located across the road from Auckland's Victoria Park on the corner of Fanshawe and Halsey Sts.
I did it for a couple of summers, and occasionally on weekends during the year. The pay was pretty good for the time, but the work wasn't that nice. Every morning we'd put on a white smock, a funny hairnet hat thing, white gumboots, ankle-length plastic apron, and rubber gloves, then tromp out onto the floor to begin work for the day.
Trucks would bring fresh fish up from the wharves and dump their loads out on the concrete floor. The fish lay there in their own slime amidst a sludge of brown, melting ice. We had to bend down, grab them by their tails, and fling them, according to size, into the appropriate plastic bin.
Slime flew as the fish sailed through the air. Our arms become puckered with their scales. We also had wooden picks (just a piece of wood with a sharp nail point protruding from the end) to snag the fish with. We were told never to puncture the eyes, as this was part of the fish's allure for the Asian market. The fish were then placed into steel trays, loaded onto trolleys, and carted down to a huge blast freezer where they were frozen solid. Then these blocks of whole fish would be packed into boxes and shipped off to Japan.
At the time McFarlane's was also researching the health benefits of the green-lipped mussel, producing a product called Seatone which is still widely available. I seem to remember it had particular benefits for arthritic joints. McFarlane's had an old boat called the Shenandoah, taking researchers and employees out to the mussel farm in the Hauraki Gulf and one day, two of us were asked to go along and paint the inside of the cabin while under way. Stuck below with diesel fumes and no ventilation, we cared little about the suffering because it was extra pay and out of the packing shed for the day.
John Croft, one of the scientist/researchers, was on board that day. He was a young Englishman, very exuberant and so friendly and cheerful, good looking too. We all liked him very much because he was such fun. I saw him a few times after that until my time at McFarlane's ended.
Flash forward to the Dairy Flat Blues Club jam night, 2016. An older gentleman comes to play his guitar and sing old favourites like 'Bad, Bad Leroy Brown'. I admit I can rarely remember names, but I do have a good memory for faces and this guy looked familiar. It was like those crime shows on TV, where they enter the photo of a criminal, and watch while the system flips through thousands of faces until it hits upon a match. Eventually, my mind locked it in.
"Are you John Croft?" I asked. "Yes," he replied. "Did you work at McFarlane's Fisheries back in the 70's?" "Yes I did." "I did too," I said, and I told him about my time in the shed flinging fish, painting the Shenandoah, and the Seatone.
John passed away a week or so ago. He hadn't been to jam night for a while, and we'd heard that he was unwell and in hospice. I will miss John. He still had all of those lovely aspects to his personality that I remember from that diesel-fumed day on the Shenandoah when I first met him: kindness, generosity of spirit, sense of humour, fun, good looks (yes indeed!) and a vigour and zest for life that never let up, not once.
And isn't it funny, that life should turn us both up again, in the same place, at the same time, so many years later, where we could have a laugh about that fish place, the old boat, the mussels and the McFarlanes themselves (both father and son were real characters). I can't say I knew John well, but he was a person I never forgot.