Tulips, Baskets & Bosses ( Day 27 )

Purple tulips growing outside. Bernie Delaney Photography.
Tulips ( Bernie Delaney )

The Challenge for Day 27

“Today, use your 500 words to tell us about your work experiences.” Although I’ve spent most of my life involved in Education, I thought I’d write about the time I worked in a flower bulb factory in Holland…Ah, fond memories of tulips, baskets and bosses.

Tulips, Baskets & Bosses.

There are endless piles of bulbs laid out in front of us. Flower bulbs, though they might as well be onions for all we care. Any romantic notions about dancing through fields of tulips are long gone. We don’t have any time to waste, we know we have to get started straight away and accelerate fast into worker bee mode. Our job is to fill as many baskets as possible with bulbs. Tulips, hyacinths, daffodils, they all look the same at this stage.  We are under pressure because we get paid per basket. it’s called “Piece Work”, a phrase I’ll never forget.

We’ve been here a week now. It’s a far cry from the buzz of Amsterdam, but we’re on a working holiday and this seems to be the only place with jobs. At least, that’s what our fellow students in Amsterdam tell us. So we take the train to Hillegom, four Irish backpackers, ready to take on the world. Or even just Holland. It’s going to be fun, isn’t it?

Fun? We are exhausted from the daily drudgery, it’s an effort even to talk. The 7km cycle at dawn along the flat, open countryside would be beautiful under different circumstances. Now, it just adds to the misery. Hunger gnaws at us, we don’t have enough money to buy food. Well, nothing past a sandwich or a few chips in the campsite cafe. This is not how it was supposed to be.

“Sorry, girls, I just don’t know what to do. I guess we just have to stick at it, hope we get faster. We haven’t much choice, have we? ” Jimmy says.

He’s the only guy among us, Anna’s boyfriend. And he’s tall, over six foot. So if he can’t keep up the gruelling pace, what hope is there for the rest of us?

“Not unless we want to go home,” Anna says, flailing under the weight of her basket. ” And I don’t think we have the bloody money left for that anyway.”

Susan is battling with the sticky bulbs, her broken fingernails are covered in dirt. She wipes her eyes and leaves a sad, slimy trail on her freckled face.

A door opens from the office beside the warehouse. In walks one of the foremen, clipboard in hand. Tall, blonde, wearing a crisp, blue shirt. He strolls over to our sad little quartet. Probably realizes we are foreign, maybe a chance to practice his English.

“Where are you from?”

“We’re from Ireland. Just students.” Susan says.

“So, how are you liking the job?”

“We’re doing our best but Christ, man this is tough.”Jimmy doesn’t hold back.

” What do you mean?”

“Well, we just can’t get enough boxes done. And the pay is brutal”

“But if you work fast, then it is good,” the foreman says, pointing at the locals who fill three boxes for every one of ours.

“But we CAN’T,” it’s Susan, blubbing like a baby.

” Oh, I am sad to hear that. Not good, not good.”

“Sorry, I know it’s not your fault. You’re just a foreman,” I’m trying to be diplomatic.

“Hmm,” he says, as he walks back to the office.

We get back to heaving spilling baskets of bulbs, racing against time, trying to survive. I feel like I’m an ant trying to move the most gigantic anthill in the world.

Next morning, we drag ourselves out of our tents and peddle the silent journey to the warehouse. When we get there, we see the foreman standing in front of the door.

“Hello, my Irish friends. Today, you are moving to a different place. Here, you get paid by the day, not the boxes. Nicer for you. ”

We follow him to a different room in the warehouse. One with seats. Oh, the bliss. A proper job, counting bulbs, stapling string bags, adding labels. We are in shock.

“How did you manage to do this?” I ask.

“I own this place,” he says.

Just like that. Not the foreman, after all.

The world is full of amazing people.



Day 27 of My 500 Words a Day Challenge, hosted by Jeff Goins.

The photograph is my own.

Some information on Hillegom.


  • JulesPaige

    I have always marveled at the closeness of European countries that can be accessed by those who live there.
    I guess it might be similar to one trying to visit all of the fifty United States. Each country and each state has its unique variety.

    Jobs… I can honestly say I’ve never packaged flower bulbs. It was nice of the owner to help you all out. I’m sort of retired these days, though still on call for watching my grands now an then.

    I think the worst and maybe the best job too, was when I worked in a bakery full time. I was able to do some frosting decorating… But getting up before the sun was not a pleasure at all. Nor was working for a manager who could have been my daughter or with co-workers who weren’t respectful. I stayed there about a year.

    • admin

      Hi Jules,

      I guess I never thought about it that way, but yes it is great being so close to all those interesting countries, France, Holland, Greece and so on.

      I haven’t been to the U.S. yet, but I imagine it’s as you say…50 very different and unique states. Certainly, as a Twitter follower, I see widely disparaging views from different sides of the aisle. And that’s before we get to the hugely varying climates and topography.

      My sister lived and worked in New Jersey for several years, and my brother worked in New York. The Irish-American connection is quite strong for historical reasons.

      I love the idea of working in a bakery. though if there were croissants involved I’d be in trouble!!


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