The house on the curve of the street was once owned by a disagreeable dipsomaniac. You never knew which way she was going to jump and she wound up hammering on my locked door with half a brick. In this connection I met the sort of officer who gives me hope for the Met. “Do you “ she asked with admirable calm over the telephone ” want us to send somebody over ?” “No” I said. “But I want a record made and I’d like a copy of it. Once is once. If she does this again, I am coming after her.” The document arrived, I kept it pinned on the notice board till fate intervened and Mrs. Disagreeable moved out.
A bush of glamorous red and yellow roses grew to one side of the house (Mrs. D was a great gardener) and my revenge was to steal one. I could not often afford flowers and there was nobody to miss one. In the first year after the new family moved in, I asked the lady of the house if I might have one and she said yes. She was gracious and I never asked again and I think of this, when I buy flowers which I mostly do from Son, Dad and Nan* (three generations of flower pitch) who now have a tiny shop tucked under an archway locally.
Like all sorts of cash crops, flowers are often forced so I don’t buy them regularly. Affected by heat and cold and frost and travelling, they don’t last five minutes. But yesterday Dad had white anemones. Irresistible. Accurately, he had white and blush blooms and when I chose them, instead of just wrapping them up, he selected a mixture, laying them very carefully flat on paper, put in two beautiful long stemmed tawny pink roses, and turned back to me.
“Man I know came in this morning” he said. “His daughter died last week. She was 13, on the Saturday. And he wanted to give everybody roses, sort of a happy memorial to her. So I’m giving them to my regulars … “ I caught my breath. “We hade five women on the forecourt this morning, weeping about it, and that wasn’t what he wanted at all. So I’m giving them to you, to make you happy.” “How lovely” I said”, thinking what do you say ? Dad deprecated: “ ‘s just a coupla roses” he said. It was Chanel who said less is more.
Long ago true love was the name of a song and a boat in the musical High Society and Valentine’s Day beckons, set aside for the worship of one of the world’s oldest miracles, with champagne, chocolates, frillies and red roses. I confess I shy away from codification by common agreement and the heavy hand of merchandising. ( Can’t drink champagne, pass on frillies, not keen on red roses and like to choose my own chocolate.) Though I do believe in true love between people, whether of the three wonderful months or thirty years variety. True means real and love is a small word of infinite variety and application. You can truly love all sorts of things in all sorts of ways from loving kindness through mad passion to deeply felt visceral affection, your country, a parent, a partner, your job or your pet.
There is a language to flowers and whether they grow wild in the hedgerow or are cultivated in pots or gardens, over time they came to symbolise different things until superstition darkened them as it darkened which gems decorate what colours we wear.
You love ? You love. Love is personal. Your love isn’t mine. Funnily enough, by using the word more, we have not learnt much more about what it means. So we look for things that symbolise how we feel. What you can afford comes into this, personal taste, fashion and so on but really what you’re looking for is an image of your love. Flowers come in many shapes and colours, die and come again, smell special– you can see how they fit into the picture. And if (as the song says) only God can make a tree, you can see He had a field day with flowers.
* not their names