Narcissus. The Double Daffodil

Home was a parallel universe; you did things differently there. School was official and English and the government and you had to behave or you would be breaking the law and could go to prison. Home was where you could laze about at weekends and scratch yourself and listen to aunts and uncles talk about ‘at home’ (Ireland) and not always be being watched and tested and sometimes you could do something a little bit bad like steal a biscuit or fight with your brother.

I carried my bulb home carefully, wrapped in the paper I had used to keep the desk clean. I walked, not ran, so as not to joggle it about and showed it to Mammy.

‘Are you sure?’ She double-checked that the authorities wouldn’t be after her for non-payment of bulb charges and we put it in a dark cupboard for a few weeks and I looked at it every few hours for a day or two then forgot all about it.

My Mammy didn’t forget though because some time later it appeared on the window, halfway up where the two halves of the double sash met, near the catch, out of the way of the jam pot and sugar bowl and other paraphernalia of everyday life. It was winter so we wouldn’t be needing to open the window. The houses were back-to-back like Coronation Street houses but bigger with three storeys and cellars, a small flagged yard at the back and an entry between them usually full of rotting waste and the odd dead dog or cat. From the kitchen window you could see the backsides of the next row of houses. It wasn’t good to look too close, the windows were rotten, some had broken glass or no glass and rags for curtains, the drains were mostly broken and gushed water down the walls that were flaking and either black with smoke or green-slimy.

We lived in the kitchen and Mammy did the cooking and washing and all that in the scullery just off it. The kitchen had a coal fire that was the only heating in the house. It heated hot water as well. We were quite well off because we had a proper bathroom and a toilet upstairs, which was fairly posh even though the rest of the house was slowly crumbling around us.

The upstairs bedrooms were let, mostly to Irish boys who came over to work on the building sites like my Daddy but with the occasional Englishman like Mr Reid who had been with us for years and was a lovely respectable man and, being English, a bit of a status symbol, along with the upstairs toilet. We’d have about five lodgers plus the five of us in the house at any time. I don’t think the lodgers’ rooms had working fireplaces. How did they keep warm in winter?

The bulb was growing; a clean green sprout appeared that you could see perfectly well from the kitchen table with its worn oilcloth cover when Mammy pointed it out. Some people’s at school hadn’t grown at all and that was very sad and some had even dropped them on the way home or forgotten all about them, which was impossible to imagine, like killing a baby or a kitten. Mine was growing well and I’d compare notes with other bulb-nurturers like virtuous parents. Then it got a bit boring again because not much was happening except for elongation and when you are eight coming on for nine a couple of months of not much happening is a goodly proportion of a lifetime.

I don’t know at what age the child psychologists say that you develop some form of real consciousness of the bigger world and your place in it but for me it was around this time. I remember two things very clearly.

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One Response to “Narcissus. The Double Daffodil”

  1. January 10, 2009 at 5:38 pm, Lynn Breeze said:

    A true story beautifully observed and reported from a distance of time. The flowering of the double daffodil brought me a feeling of great joy and a determination to appreciate those special moments myself when they occur.


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