Flower Crime: a True Confession

uncancellable narcissi

In today’s Woke World where anything can be cancelled from Chaucer to cervixes, it’s good to remember the affirmation of the world’s greatest living painter :

Spring Cannot be Cancelled 

Having said that…

Extract from Chapter 28 From Nettles to Nightingales

As any gardener will tell you, autumn is bulb-planting time. I will go further and argue that those possessing the merest smidgeon of British DNA are driven to plant bulbs each autumn in the same way swallows wave ‘Bye Bye’ and head back to Africa. UK supermarkets are full of special offers, gaudily-illustrated catalogues from Holland drop through British letterboxes like bonbons, and Britannia-en-masse gets out trowels and kneeling mats. Why? Because for us northerners, bulbs are the eagerly-awaited signs of spring, bright harbingers after dark winter days.

Where’s spring?

I remember the whole Yorkshire family longing for spring. As early as February we would go outside and sniff the air, hoping for that faint delicious draught that heralds winter’s close. The change from light to dark, from death to rebirth, could be summed up by the biannual pronouncements of my maternal Grandmother. In autumn she would glumly observe ‘th’ neets are drawin’ in’ (trans: the nights are drawing in) while spring merited the cheerful pronouncement ‘th’ neets are drawin’ out.’ In neighbouring houses every scrap of garden, no matter how humble, would celebrate the event with a joyful show of snowdrops, crocuses, daffodils, narcissi, tulips and primroses.

Daffodils and narcissi The Backs, Cambridge

In Cambridge, where I later lived, one of the most iconic sights was ‘the backs’ of the colleges, in particular King’s. Every March, these placid green swathes of sheep-and-cow-dotted meadowland sloping gently to the River Cam and extending beyond as far as the road with copses of tall trees, would be invaded by camera-clicking tourists, angling for the perfect shot: in the foreground, the explosions of thousands of crocuses, daffodils and narcissi, in the middle, the river, bridges and willows,  and topping it all off like a spun sugar wedding cake ornament in the background,  the magnificent cathedral of King’s College.

King’s College, seen from the River Cam.
Photo Mike McBey courtesy Wikimedia https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cambridge_(49343363248).jpg

In Toulouse, we’d always had spring pots of tulips on the terrace. At The Cowshed it was a different story. Some of our most spectacular garden failures had been bulbs. In 2013 we eagerly awaited the results of the ‘Buckingham Palace Tulips’ project. Envisioned as an arresting double row of proud, letter-box red blooms lining the north wall like guardsmen and causing farmers passing by on tractors to shout ‘boudiou!’ and doff their caps, the reality was a handful of thin-stemmed droopers falling nose first into the grass. Ditto for the drifts of crocuses (a grand total of 9 huddled in misery down the side of the slope) and snowdrops (what snowdrops?)

So, with my genetic heritage, why was the bulb initiative a total flop? Was it the climate? The terrain? Or could it be the past catching up with the Head Gardener, making her pay for former sins…was it, in short, Tulip Karma?

Was it tulip karma??

The awful truth was that, as a child, I had committed a flower crime. The shameful story was handed down from generation to generation, and the experience remains imprinted on my mind in lurid technicolour. The drama occurred at my grandparents’ house. My paternal grandparents, as recounted in an earlier chapter, lived in a one-up, one-down rented terrace property with their six children. My maternal grandparents on the other hand, by dint of scrimping, saving and only having one child, had risen in the world, finally able to buy a small terraced house with the luxury of an indoor bathroom.  Along with the other families who had bought in the same street, this was the equivalent of reaching domestic Nirvana. Thirty-odd identical houses ran up the left-hand side of the street, another thirty-odd ran down the opposite side. At the back of each house were long, narrow gardens separated by low rustic fences, and which were on a par, Nirvana-wise, with the indoor bathrooms.  In Grandad’s well-tended plots, not a weed dared to poke its head through the abundant clusters of flowers characteristic of the English garden – marguerites, hollyhocks, lupins, poppies – ending in a rustic arch covered in roses. The rectangle of lawn in the middle was cricket-pitch smooth and weedless. This garden was my kingdom: I was its miniature tyrannical ruler with two slaves. My mother being an only child, logic decreed that, as first grandchild, I should be hopelessly spoiled, cossetted and indulged, an angel who could do no wrong. At the bottom of the garden, next to the shed, Grandad had erected a swing; one of his jobs was to push the young angel up and down until his arms dropped off.

When Grandad wasn’t on duty, it was Grandma’s turn, telling stories as she sat in her chair on the lawn. In my earliest memories she is wearing dark glasses and a green eyeshade, like the ones worn by 19th C telegraphers. Born into a large family, she had contracted a lethal combination of chicken pox and diphtheria which left her with scarring on both retinas. Although kept off school for long periods, she was a smart, intelligent child who loved to read whenever her damaged eyesight permitted. By the time I came onto the scene, she was undergoing treatment with a specialist involving the application of drops and creams to burn off the scars. The results were variable; at times she was able to see well enough to read and write; on other, terrifying, days, she would wake up to find her world had dimmed to vague shapes and faded colours. It was only as I grew older that I understood what an indomitable spirit she had, living not only with this physical handicap but also the fear that one day a final darkness would descend and the colours would never return.

One of her favourite expressions, much-used to express her amazement and gratitude at having risen to the heights of a two-up-two-down residence with indoor toilet and garden, was ‘Ee! We live like fighting cocks!’ I had no idea what a fighting cock was, but dimly grasped that these farmyard creatures were living the high life, like their cousins, the pigs in clover.  It was only later I found out the terrible truth–they were being fattened up and cossetted in order to take part in gladiatorial combats similar to those in the bloody arenas of ancient Rome! Much later I learnt that their French cousins didn’t fare any better, being fattened up with the express intention of ending their days in a pie, the French equivalent of Grandma’s exclamation being ‘nous vivons comme des coqs en pâte.’

Poppies in the fairy kingdom

Grandma was a wonderful story teller. All the old favourites – Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, The Three Bears, were recounted in dramatic detail, with different voices. She also invented tales of her own, inspired by her new garden where she would sit in a chair, narrating wondrous events like a Celtic bard, while I sat on the grass, spellbound.  As she nudged my imagination into realms of beauty and magic, flower kingdoms with fairies, princes and princesses, witches and wizards, all of these imaginary journeys became linked to that unique, grounded feeling of love and security imparted to children by the presence of a beloved human story-teller. Listening to Grandma’s voice, I could look around at the enclosed world of marguerites and Michaelmas daisies, all taller than me, and feel safe and happy.

So, Reader, what then possessed the little angel, that fateful day in the spring of her fourth year, to embark on a campaign of carnage and destruction?

A better question would be ‘who’? Also visiting his grandparents that day was a certain Brian, a year older than me and obviously destined to become a future  leader of a satanic cult. As the grownups were busy preparing Sunday lunch, the devil-child Brian lured me away from the fairy kingdom and led me up and down the backs of every house in the street where we gleefully nipped off the tops of every blooming tulip in every spring garden. A red and yellow trail of disaster lay in our wake.

Naturally, the crime was discovered. The entire street came out to witness our walk of shame, marched along by outraged grandparents (the first time I had ever experienced their wrath) to apologise to every scandalised householder and injured gardener. As I sobbed out a litany of ‘sorry-I-promise-never-to do-it again’, the spawn of Satan trailed behind, bottom lip thrust out. His parting shot, accompanied by a look of false righteousness and a pointing finger was:

‘She told me to do it!’

Thus concluded my first life lessons about the wickedness of destroying beautiful things and the inconstancy of the male species.

‘Frailty, thy name is woman!’

Joyeux printemps to all, hoping for brighter days ahead!

(Since writing this, Storm Eunice has battered the UK, 1 million people without power and gusts of 122 mph wind have been recorded 🙁 so extra-special thoughts go to those across the Channel.)

Looking for something to read? There’s a treat in store with Sheila Patel’s latest book in  her Aunt Sheila’s Pandemic Diaries Series The Vaccine Strikes Back : ”the writing sparkles…” “genuinely funny but also touching in places…” “Brilliantly written account of the madness of the pandemic.” What are you waiting for?

Meanwhile, not far from the Singh’s corner shop in Bradford is Haworth, home of the Brontës and the setting for The Passage of Desire, which is FREE to download February 19, 20 and 21. Enjoy!

 #LoveBooks! #LoveYorkshire!

©Laurette Long 2022







14 thoughts on “Flower Crime: a True Confession”

  1. ” EE it were tuff up North…….” Some wonderful recollections of your Yorkshire grandparents and their love of gardens and gardening and their contribution to the local language and their lives and times in perhaps a more happy and contented environment ?
    But what of the young Femme Fatale – ” She told me to do it ” was this where your literary imagination began – this descent into naughtiness and a graphic description of the events and the public shaming ? Did Brian the Bad get away with it – perhaps becoming an MP or univ . Prof ?
    We have one solitary daffodil , same crocuses and snowdrops , one tree down , one damaged , greenhouse damaged , roof tiles off , winds 92mph at Portland , harbourside flooded – but I always enjoy and look forward to your Blogs – roll on Summer !

    1. Cher Pierre Thanks so much as always for taking the time to comment, and what a wonderful comment, it had me laughing out loud as opposed to my obessive checking of news alerts about the invasion of Ukraine prompting the dire need of a stiff G and T this evening – yes indeed, we seem far from the happy contented environments of yesteryear. My money is on Brian the Bad having gone into academia as you suggest… (any particular grove in mind?) So sorry to hear you were badly battered by Eunice (or Dudley or Franklin) – now I suppose it’s the discouraging time of clear up and getting the checkbook out? The family in the north just (!) had water coming through the roof but it stopped when the worst was over. If we were supersitious we’d think somebody or something Up There had it in for us at the moment woudn’t we? (Jupiterian thunderbolts spring to mind). Roll on summer indeed and let’s cross our fingers against more thunderbolts. Take carexx

  2. Magical! No wonder you write so beautifully, your grandmother aided in your gift of storytelling. It must have been tough for her not knowing if she’d wake to darkness for the rest of her life. She sounds like a very strong woman.

    British gardens are gorgeous. We’ve driven through many areas of the UK and the burst or colors are everywhere.

    Thanks so much for sharing how cruel you were to the green thumb devotees.

    Stay safe and in good health. May spring bring an abundance of colors, types, and smiles.

    1. Many thanks chère Denise for your comment, which is beautiful to read in itself (are you preparing your next blog??). Very kind-and typical- of you to think about my Grandmother, she was indeed a tiny (4ft 10inches) bundle of resilience, and her story has a happy ending – as medical treatment progressed she was able to undergo three operations on one eye (she lost the other) over a period of three years, and hit the headlines in her sixties by finally regaining the sight in that eye. At the big London hospital where she’d become a familiar figure the docs and nurses took her up to the roof to see the lights of the city spread out for miles (am wiping away a tear!). It’s a story in itself… I remember your trip to the UK and how you were struck by the British use of the word ‘lovely’!!! Keep safe dear friend, I’m hoping the flowers bloom for you and yours this spring xx

  3. fabulous recount of younger naughty days, I love the story and the images you portray. We too are looking at the daffodils starting to bloom, today nodding in the breeze having been battered by ‘Eunice’ with snow around them. We can catch the scent of spring though and looking forward to her/he making an appearance – stay well dear friends, with love from the cow stall! xx

    1. Dearest Paula thanks so much for your comment glad to hear that you haven’t been blown away by Eunice and that the daffs have come through in spite of everything, defintely uncancelled! Much love to you both as well do hope we can raise a glass together in le Cowshed this year…can it be true??? Will we gather lilacs in the spring again??? 🙂 xx

  4. Dearest Elizabeth, You have just given me a Proustian rush! Those daffodil-covered banks leading up to the former ramparts in York are also imprinted on my memory, what a sight! And what a coincidence you got caught up in a flower crime as well, I remember with fondness your naughty sister but didn’t know the story, what on earth posseses children to carry out experiments such as these which seem logical at the time – maybe the cup-shaped heads were just begging to be filled with muddy ‘tea’?? ;-)xx

  5. I hope you are safe from the storm. And that beautiful spring as so lovely depicted in yours post returns fast. I tried to download you book but Amazon wouldn’t let me. I will wait to purchase as I don’t want to miss reading it.

    1. Dear Hippy Sis many thanks for your warm words, don’t worry about The Passage of Desire, I’m sure you read it when it came out which is why Amazon won’t let you buy it again (it got a new cover a couple of years ago). My Yorkshire family are all OK with the storm, I’m just worried about friends on the south coast which is where the terrible winds were recorded. And, as a fellow nervous flyer, I must tell you the recordings I watched of planes trying to land had me covering my eyes!!! Stay safe on the ground in CA 😉 xx

      1. Glad for the safety of your Yorkshire family! The weather systems world-wide are something else! Stay well and safe and can’t wait for your next book to be born. xox

  6. Sniffing the air, nights drawing in, aww lovely Yorkshire, hurry up spring and daffodils! Always love your blogs and thanks for checking out my new diary x

    1. Thank you chère cousine, I see I have unleashed a wave of Yorkie nostalgia!! Yes, hurry up spring, are you all OK with Eunice hitting the west coast? More installments of the diary please, to keep us all laughing in the face of tragedy! xx

  7. I do so love your blogs Laurette and so many things you write about resonate with me as a fellow Yorkshire woman. ( My father always talked about the nights drawing in and also swore that by the very start of the new year you could notice those welcome extra daylight minutes.) In York, where I grew up, the harbinger of spring was when the daffodils – no other flowers – made their annual show on the banks leading up to the walls round the city – the bar walls as they were always known. I can see them now in my mind’s eye as I passed them every day on my way to school. I even have a tulip destruction story to tell – not led by any outsider but by my elder and much naughtier sister. She persuaded me that it would be a good idea to fill the heads of my father’s many treasured open tulips with soil – which we both proceeded to do. Of course the inevitable happened and the heads keeled over with the weight. My father was furious but to be fair to my sister she, unlike the perfidious Brian, fully accepted joint responsibility! Thank you for reviving these memories for me and for the joy your writing always brings.

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