HOST INTRO: After months of snowstorms and one of the coldest Februarys in New York City history, spring has finally sprung. And with it come the snowdrops, the cherry blossom, and – as commentator Alistair Gardiner reflects on – daffodils.
Ahh daffodils. For most people daffodils alone are enough to elicit a smile or a comment about how it’s so nice it is that winter is over. But personally, they remind me of lost innocence.
After I finished high school, I wanted to back-pack round Europe, but I had to earn some money. I did everything from washing dishes in a pub to modelling for a life-drawing class. But then there was the job that broke me… professional daffodil picking.
I grew up in the rural southwest of England, in a region where daffodils are grown in large batches before being shipped off to stores around the country.
At first, it seemed appealing. Waltzing around in a field of daffodils… how hard could it be?
On my first day, the magnitude of what I didn’t know about daffodils became apparent.
First off, when you pick daffodils professionally, you’re not picking pretty yellow flowers; you’re picking thick, green stems that will be packed up and will eventually bloom into daffodils. So much for that glorious field of flowers I had pictured myself frolicking in.
Second, it’s hard, physical labour. As someone who’s greatest challenge had been doing class assignments for chemistry, this was my first experience with what people meant by ‘back-breaking work’ or working “day-in day-out”. Daffodil-pickers get paid $0.15 cents for each bunch of ten daffodils. In order to be making let’s say the Federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, you’d have to pick about a bunch every minute. So you’re bent over hour upon hour, standing up straight only briefly to stash the bunch you just picked. By my second day on the job, I ached all over. Every muscle in my body was in shock.
Third. Daffodils are poisonous. Even with gloves, my inexperience left me ravaged by what seasoned pickers refer to as ‘daffodil itch’. Angry red rashes covered both of my wrists and as the days went by, this rash crept up my forearms like ivy.
Add to that, I was a pretty terrible at it. I never picked enough to make minimum wage. And, due to the discomfort of my increasingly stiff back and red itchy arms, I got slower as time went by. I lasted two weeks before throwing in the towel.
But what I couldn’t get over, were the career flower pickers. They feed their families and pay their mortgages picking seasonal flowers and produce throughout the year. Watching them race down the field leaving hundreds of expertly bunched plants in their wake was mesmerising. And eye-opening.
In many ways, this was my first real job of adult life… and thought this must be what’s it’s like to work. It made me empathise with my parents, in fact pretty much all the adults I knew. I was confronting the reality of really working for a living, of adult responsibility. I realised that this would be true of any job I eventually found myself in.
I’ve since managed to continue evading that responsibility with even more education, but now I’m about to finish graduate school. And I feel ready to accept adult life, to learn what “day-in day-out” means. I hope that soon I’ll be breaking my back doing something that brings people as much joy as daffodils do. Without the rash.
Alistair Gardiner is currently on the hunt for a real adult job. So if anyone is hiring, feel free to contact him. Unless you run a daffodil farm.