Sunday, 9 February 2014

Never mind the Valentines; here are the flowers!

I am not fussed about Valentine's Day. There. I said it.

Ok, the truth is a bit more complicated than that. When we learned about St Valentine at primary school, we were told that 14th February was a day to secretly let someone know that you admired them. At secondary school, this became a competition to see how many cards a girl received (and it was usually girls who received them, which didn't seem fair to boys). Then, as adults, it turned into a day for couples, not shy admirers, and it seemed that people were expected to go out on dates which were conventionally 'romantic' (such as dinner at the expensive Italian in town and then the blockbuster romance at the cinema, even if you both prefer fish and chips and horror films) and give presents that were flaunted by the high street. Oh yes, and there was a general assumption that all couples were boy + girl. For those young women who were more egalitarian, this meant two things: we received corny presents that our boyfriends would never normally have bought for us, and we were stumped as to what to buy them because there weren't big 'What to buy him' displays in the shops. Was it ok to buy a Black Sabbath CD, even though it didn't seem very romantic? I can't even remember the presents I've bought boyfriends, which makes me think they might have been awful.

And then, of course, there are the flowers. I'm sure I must have been given a bunch of roses or carnations at least once on Valentine's Day by the boyfriend who worked at a petrol station. I may have been given flowers on Valentine's Day by the poetic and kind boyfriend with brilliant taste who introduced me to hyacinths (scented flowers - what a change!). I didn't know it when I was twenty, but plenty of men do like flowers. I've given flowers to several men since I started working as a florist, and 90% are very happy to receive them! (The other 10% are polite but perplexed!) Have a look at the 20th photo in this gallery.

But there are two Valentine's Days that I remember well. One was when I was single. I'd had an upsetting hospital appointment, which I went to alone, and I wasn't sure what to do afterwards. So I went to a nice but inexpensive Italian place that I like, and listened to the lunchtime chatter around me. I heard two waitresses talking about flowers - one complained that her husband never bought her any. This was before I'd trained as a florist, but I had one thought in my head: "Buy yourself flowers! Don't wait for someone else!" I didn't say that, of course. The waitress hadn't been talking to me, and why would she care what I thought?

However, I did take my own advice. I went to a gorgeous shop that was filled with florists making and packing beautiful, scented, textured handtieds, and I asked if I could have something for my chosen budget. I was told it would be a two-hour wait for a bespoke bouquet, or I could choose from the range of bouquets that were ready and on display. I picked one, and I remember it was all white and green, which is unusual for me as I love bright colours so much. I suppose those were the colours I was feeling that day. It's the only time I've bought myself a handtied from another florist, and maybe that's why it still makes me smile. If you're single, as I am again this year, I do recommend buying flowers for yourself. You could track down flowers from a local grower. Or you could just buy one stem of your favourite flower from your local florist or a £5 bunch of British tulips like these.

The next year, things had changed a lot. I was doing my floristry diploma, I was doing work experience at different florists, and I was doing the long-distance thing, travelling up to see my lovely boyfriend in the Midlands every few weeks. I was given a week's work experience at David Austin Roses, for the Valentine's Day rush, and my boyfriend and I stayed at a lovely B&B in Albrighton and commuted to work from there. It was a sort of oddly romantic, working holiday, only instead of wearing cute date outfits, I wore thermals and multiple layers because of the cold. I made lots of bouquets using gorgeous, scented roses. This huge bouquet was one of my favourites.

On V Day itself, I had a posy of flowers in a plastic bottle by the window in the B&B - there were roses, including the hot pink and highly scented Emily rose, hypericum and skimmia that had broken and couldn't be used in the handtieds, so my supervisor let me take them. They were perfect. And our 'date' that day? Pot Noodles and Dairy Milk in front of Hollyoaks and Eastenders. That's the not-single Valentine's Day I remember the most fondly.

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