It’s that season when I’m forced to admit that I am, in fact, a whole year older than I was last year. The good news, however, is that this is an excuse for cake, lovely company and presents, and I was fortunate enough to enjoy all three this October. One of my gifts was something that I have only very rarely received: a beautiful bunch of flowers. Specifically, a vase full of dahlias (cue some lengthy pondering about whether they should really be pronounced ‘day-leas’ or ‘daah-leas’), which are still blossoming in a very spectacular fashion a week later.
And I realised, as I gazed at these lovely dahlias in their vase on the table, that as a musician, and someone who is forever travelling around the UK, I had a rather lengthy list of immediate reactions to just the idea of being given flowers. They made me think of concerts, and how men get given wine whilst women are left struggling with a massive bouquet. I pictured dressing rooms piled with roses. I remembered occasions when I’ve been out for a drink with singers after gigs when they’ve been wrestling with suitcases, dress bags, and their flowers. I’ve seen them give flowers to passers-by, leave them in restaurants, and so on, to save them the extra carrying. I’ve very occasionally found myself in a similar situation, of having flowers presented to me at a festival or concert and then having to brave the train with these blooms tucked under my arm. I looked at these dahlias, this kind and beautiful gift, and my brain leapt to the logistics of what was going to have to happen with them next.
However, the great joy of understanding your thought processes enough to see where they’re going is that you can then stop them doing that, and consider the same thing from a different perspective. So after this millisecond in which my brain got to ‘how nice, and how are you going to carry those home then?’, I told it to shut up and look. Just… look. Look at these wonderful flowers. Aren’t they amazing? Even without getting into questions of structure and biological detail, they are stunning. They are the most delicate shade that somehow manages to be vibrant at the same time. The petals are remarkably robust and hold their shape strongly for days and days, long after they are cut. They smell fantastic. They lift the whole room they are in. They are all of these things, and someone determined that I was worth being given something that special. Which is very humbling indeed.
It’s a cliché now to say that we are constantly living in a state of overstimulation – so much information, so many distractions, even in the act of walking through the centre of a town or city. Adverts and buskers, posters and shops, sales signs and charity workers. And then the phone of course, the endless source of news and films and music and games and and and… I’ve been watching people on the London Underground this week, and marvelling at the irony that we choose, so often, to hide from too much happening around us by making something else happen via electronic media – but something we can completely control ourselves, like listening to our favourite music or watching a TV show on a tiny screen pressed to our noses on a crowded train. And interrupting it by checking Facebook updates. We think only of the mechanical action of getting from A to B, and the ways we are going to then ignore the experience of that action.
When we are surrounded constantly by shiny, flashy, beepy, distracting things, and all the complexities of navigating a world full of such things, then the humble dahlia can rapidly lose any sense of being particularly special. Actually, even visiting an impressive RHS garden or National Trust estate can be a bit much – the horticultural equivalent of trying to do the entire British Museum in an afternoon – because when there are so many beautiful things everywhere, it’s very hard indeed to focus intently on a single one, and consider how marvellous it is in isolation; and then to think outwards to the astonishing, bewildering array of others that are equally spectacular.
So I’d like this thoughtful, simple, lovely birthday gift of mine to be a reminder, not just to me, but to anyone who stumbles across this blog: take the time to contemplate single flowers for yourself, in all their glorious detail. Go to the V&A and spend half an hour admiring a single chair or table. It’s enough. It’s overwhelming, actually. And it’s absolutely worth taking the time to just look, just think, about that single thing in all its richness. It is a valuable reminder of just what an incredible world we occupy, away from the overloaded trains and difficult luggage and tiring logistics. Forget all that, and admire the view. Just stop, now and again – and smell the dahlias.