Narcissus. The Double Daffodil
By Anne Beswick
Location: Ripon Street, Moss Side
They gave us the bulbs free at school. With the soil and a bowl as well. All free, for nothing. ‘Are you sure?’ said Mammy, obviously worried about what it might cost if I’d got it wrong – but it was alright because I could say that the others had got one as well, Julie and Ida and Mary, so she could cross reference with the other little girls’ mammies to check that we wouldn’t be owing anything and be ashamed. Probably the boys had got them as well. The Holy Name Junior School in Moss Side, Manchester did have boys in 1960 but they sort of didn’t enter into the consciousness of an eight-year-old girl.
They’d made us clear our desks and put old newspaper over them to keep them clean. Then we had a bowl and some soil and a bulb each. We followed the instructions carefully. Put a broken piece of pot over the hole in the big pot then cover it with the soil to this much then put the bulb in the middle this way up and put in more soil so the top bit just shows like a little nose poking out. I don’t remember any explanations being given for any of this. Like why have a hole in the pot when you then have to cover it with another piece of pot? Or why does the pointy bit of the bulb have to stick out instead of covering it up with soil and what is a bulb anyway?
Some things were obvious, instinctive, like bulbs were alive; you could feel it in the soft density and the perfection of the scruffiness. It was obvious that the roots went downwards because roots grew in the ground and it was obvious that the pointy bit went upwards because that was where the leaves would grow to the sunshine. Obviously you had to water it because it needed to have a drink but not too much or it would drown. You didn’t have to be told these obvious things like you didn’t have to be told to walk on your feet not your hands and that food went in your mouth not your ears.
Other not-so-obvious things that you needed to know you hoped that teachers or other grown-ups would tell you so that you could work things out or at least get to know the rules. They told you the catechism, ‘Who made me?’ ‘God made me’. ‘Why did God make me?’ ‘God made me to know him, love him and serve him in this world and to be happy with him forever in the next.’ So that was sorted. They told you to look right and left and right again before crossing the road and that right was the hand you write with so just pretend to write something to know which way was which. The poor left-handers must have gone round in circles or got knocked down. And they told you that we had no money for dolls, perhaps Father Christmas would bring one, if you were a good girl. There was bargaining to be done. This was how you knew how the world worked, instinct and instruction, nature and nurture.
Then they told us something truly amazing. We could take the bulbs home. With the pot and the soil and everything. They were for us, to have, not like the pens and pencils and books that we used with gratitude but we knew had to be counted out and counted back in and woe betide the class who lost a nib pen or a Blue Book 2. They would have to stay in until it was found, usually under the seat of some dunce with a runny nose, probably a boy as well. But we didn’t take things home from school.