Netherlands 1977

With foreign temporary workers like the bearded stranger I usually laid them off three or four  days before the weekly payday. I’m the factory manager and that arrangement was financially better for me. The foreigners often went home immediately, not wanting to hang around spending what they had already earned. The stranger was quite cool when I told him on a Tuesday that I didn’t need him at the factory anymore, that I couldn’t pay him today and that he needed to come back on a Friday.

The conditions aren’t bad at my factory. The workers do twelve-hour shifts with two fifteen-minute and one half-hour breaks. They have a nice breeze blowing through and there is plenty of natural light. This is the 1970s so I don’t even mind them smoking their dope in their breaks – but not anywhere near where we sweep up the onions which spilt off the conveyor belt, otherwise the piccalilly sauce we produce from those sweepings might have some strange hidden highs!

During an average shift 3.5 tonnes of onions pass in front of my workers every hour, all needing to be sorted into good or bruised. Half of the workers that summer were Dutch, most of the rest were British or Irish. While the bearded stranger was working with us we had a typical representation of the 1970s student population: Fascists and Irish nationalists, Zola readers and psychology students, part-time welders and dopeheads. Many stayed in tents on Lake Langeraar because the factory is 18km from Leiden, the nearest city. The villages in the polder (land reclaimed from the sea; our one is 1,000 hectares and 4.5 metres below sea level) are small and uninteresting but at least people greet strangers, like my workers, in the street.

My greeting wasn’t so welcoming when the bearded one walked into my office the second Friday after I fired him. He had toured a bit round Belgium and Holland and had come back to demand the four days’ pay I owed him.