First my daughter. Three years ago when she started school, I sometimes thought of her as a little snowdrop, a tiny beautiful flower, but gently bowed and diffident. She cried all the way through her first school play, reached out to me with beseeching arms in her second, slightly self-consciously danced a solo in the third; and belted out a song, whilst whipping others into line, in this year’s Christmas special.
Caring teachers and a lovely little school have straightened her stem, burst open her petals and encouraged a more confident little trumpet in the middle. In recognition, and ending months of parental anxiety, this week she won a place at a super new school. Like the picture above she now has more of the ‘Narcissus Geranium’ about her than the original snowdrop. It’s lovely to see.
The second set of flowers came at work. I found myself talking to a roomful of our people from Alexandria and Cairo (despite the unrest at home), Abuja, Beirut, Abu Dhabi, Lahore, Recife and the UK about our Prime Minister’s recent speech on Multiculturalism. I said I think it’s all about how petals and centre – or stigma – relate in the national flower. I drew three flowers. One with petals and no centre, one with a huge centre and ‘teddy bear’s ears’ petals and the last with daffodil-like proportions.
I said, in my view, if there is no shared centre, just independent and separate ‘petals’ of separate cultures who never mix, a society will have tensions. Similarly if the centre is so large that the central culture dominates and excludes ‘outsider’ cultures, beleaguered, excluded groups will live unhappily. What’s needed – and substantially what I believe we have in the UK – is a good balance of centre and petals; things in common and things on which we live with and benefit from difference.
What was interesting for me was when the woman from Brazil stood up and said, for her, there was a fourth option. Her picture was petals within a circle. That’s how she feels about Brazil, their culture is the sum of their petals. I guess a lot depends on the balance of ‘new’ and ‘old’, ‘migrant’ and ‘indigenous’, ‘history’ and ‘present’. A daffodil culture works for me.
My final Narcissus blossomed in a rich conversation over fish, chips and peas on the balance of Kierkegaardian ‘ethical roles’ and the central self. My interlocutor has impressively re-asserted her central self, to rebalance her life and lessen the competing and narcissistic demands of all those making a claim on her.
This set me thinking, and, as I said, once again the daffodil strikes me as the ideal flower. The ‘daffodil life’ wins over everyone with its ramrod straight ethical stalk, a healthy petal spread of life roles. But, it’s the vivid central trumpet of the self that ‘makes’ the flower – just like my little girl.
Passing a florist today, me and my boy bought our first daffodils of the year after his Birthday lunch. They are a joyous symbol of spring. A wonderful thing the daffodil.