Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Iceland

Standing on the wet concrete floor in my red gumboots, ankle length rubber apron and hair net, I plunge the tweezers mercilessly into the slab of pale pink flesh. The pincered end of my tool meets the squirming parasite as I draw it out and deposit it into the container, already writhing with its genetic pool in the centre of the long, underlit table. By mid morning the container’s already full. The slimy little creeps have begun evacuating their vessel and are headed back across the table to their fleshy host. Get back you little fucker, I mutter under my breath, pinching them with ardent, metallic disgust. This is the value of the trawler’s overnight catch, multiple ton of infested Icelandic cod. These were the worst days. Slow drudge days, days of sluggish mood, mean humour. Days when Marianne Faithfull’s ‘The Ballad of Lucy Jordan’ blaring through the speakers with soulful melancholy, felt like your personal anthem. Under the watchful gaze of the passing supervisor, with reckless disregard, I jab the tweezers in again, and again, retrieving dozens of wrigglers from the flesh of the giant fillet. The cod-worm, Nematoda, belonging to a parasitic organism that occupies 90% of the ocean floor, are a common occurrence - don’t believe me? Google it! - and harmless, if cod is cooked to 60°. Yeah right, I’ll just get my thermometer out!
With the supervisor now on his way, I look up and meet the eye of my co-worker. We exchange winks. Without a second thought, I deftly slice the large fillet into meal size pieces and place them, side by side, remaining worms intact, in the shiny laminated box, close the lid, and smack it on the stack of others at the end of the table. No qualms! Done! Just for a moment, I’m dazzled by my audacity. The locals, the sour lot they invariably are, cheat as well, so that makes it right. Right? It’s crucial to buck the system. You see, every box that you pack above your daily quota, the bigger the bonus at the end of the week. The bigger the bonus, the further the travel at the end of your 5-month contract. This was how it had to be.


The recipient nation of this extra-protein-enhanced product are the citizens of the USA. I consider the mild sense of vindication I feel. Didn’t the USA deserve a bit of its own covert treatment? Even if only for the odd nematoda in their chowder! Surveying the pickings that trundle down the conveyor belt in large square plastic bins, I strain with the effort and pull another full load of fin, scale and muscle onto the table, empty its content, pick up my perfectly honed knife and skin half a big beast with one quick flick of my strong wrist.


The bell sounds for morning smoko. A loud rubber thwack, the sound of hundreds of factory workers removing their gloves, cracks open the darkness, as we file out, hungry for pudding, monstrous lashings of sour cream and hot cocoa.


Processing practices are surely different now. I'm talking 35 years ago. Thermometer or not, cod’s been off my personal menu since. Fish fingers? You’d have to be mad. Think worm!!!!


Sudureyri, Iceland
Winter 1980

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