The Heath Robinson onion skinning machine

I haven’t kept up to date with my NaNo diary here – I had imagined that as I worked my way through the 50,000 words which make up the National Novel Writing Month challenge, I would be adding a commentary here on my progress. I didn’t necessarily think it would be a daily thing, but I certainly thought I would keep up to date with my progress, my hurdles, my free-flowing runs of hundreds if not thousands of words.

This year, unlike some others, I have been working steadily and well, and with a firm purpose; I don’t necessarily know where the story is going (although I have a good idea) but nearly every day I have written something… however, and here is the big ‘however’, I have just not managed to meet the target of 1667 words a day, and I have been lagging further and further behind.

A few days ago I honestly thought I wasn’t going to make it this year, and I still have doubts… however, I have worked, head down over the last few days, and although I am not on course yet (with only four days to go) it is, I hope manageable…

Here is an extract… my character Milla is thinking back over jobs she had when she was a student… this is actually what I did… worked in a pickle onion factory:

Milla worked on what the boss called his Heath Robinson machine. She sat on a bicycle seat with a treadle beneath one foot and a pedal beneath the other. In front of her was looked like a cog, but with curved teeth; the pedal opened and closed a big hopper beside her containing the onions. The treadle turned the cog and Milla’s job was to put pickling onions one by one onto the teeth as they fed down from the hopper. The onions would enter the rackety machine in front of her and two rotating blades would slice off the ends. Another circular blade sliced the onion skin lengthways as they passed beneath it. The top and tailed sliced onions would pass into an inner region where air was blasted to blow off the skins. The skins fell into a waste bin, the naked onions came out the other end on a conveyor belt.

The three women worked at the other end, checking the onions were properly peeled; they had small sharp knives to complete the job and once properly skinned they would be tossed into a large plastic brine tub.

The noise was phenomenal for a small machine. If the onions jammed in the hopper Milla would slap it or bang it with her shoulder to shift them. When the hopper was empty she got off her bicycle seat and went and got a new sack and emptied it in. The onions came from the Netherlands and once a Dutch onion picker’s knife tumbled out of the hopper onto her tray.

Milla began to use it instead of the knife she had been issued with, imaging the Dutch onion pickle who might be sadly wondering where his favourite knife was. When she left she took the knife wither.

© Lois Elsden 2017

Here’s a link to my published stories, e-books and paperbacks:



  1. David Lewis

    They must have put you on that machine because you had strong legs from all that swimming you did. Did you make sure that you had all your fingers at the end of the shift?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lois

      Ha-ha, maybe! I was nowhere near the blades, I just had the toothed cog which wasn’t sharp, and the peddle and the treadle – oh and the hopper! Every night when i got home all my clothes went in the washing basket and I was straight in the bath – even so, I must have smelled of onions!!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.