I love a bargain, and (confession/judgement alert) I cannot understand anyone who doesn’t. You know the sort of people who are embarrassed about buying supermarket food that has been marked down after 5 o’clock, or they run the other way when you start haggling at the fish market, or they won’t buy an old book from Barnardos when they can get it new on Amazon for ten times the price? What is wrong with them? So, now that you have the measure of me, please picture me after Christmas, delightedly buying two boxed Amaryllis Belladonnas, one for me and one for my sister, marked down not once, not twice, but three times until they were practically being given away for 99p each. Bingo! That will bring some joy to late winter, I thought; that will bring a little colour to ring in the spring, a shoot of new growth on which to pin my hopes (yes, I had serious expectations as to the therapeutic benefits of this flower). I gave my sister one and kept the other for myself and off we went to nurture the same plant, following the same instructions according to what the box said, and yet, we were to reap such different results. Turns out that, for the bulbs – not unlike ourselves – environment matters.
By accident, stealth, the boredom of winter, a competition as to whose flower was doing best was born. I’d say it was a bit like new mothers trading stories as to their toddlers’ development: ‘he was walking at 10 months’, ‘she could say, mummy can I please have a carrot stick at fourteen months’. Just like that, we found ourselves trading growth progress: the battle of the belladonnas had begun. Mine languished in January (a bit like myself); it stirred little on the chilly kitchen windowsill, other than a tentative poking of its nose into the world, but its growth was so slow, so half-hearted, that I wondered for a while if I’d been sold a dud. Especially when sister began to send me photos of hers (warm sitting room, on a console next to the radiator), it was growing faster than Usain Bolt running the hundred-metre dash. I sent a photo back of mine with a sad-face emoji suggesting it might have contracted a little winter flu. And did I receive sympathy in return? – I regret to tell you that I did not! My display of vulnerability was exploited, my wound made deeper by taunting and by that most shameful of sentiments, pity. She continued to send almost daily pictures of the incredible ascent of her own beanstalk whilst mine languished, barren and unfruitful. It became (I regret to tell you this because it does not reflect well on my sibling whom I had so generously gifted the 99p amaryllis bulb) a sordid, ignoble competition – on her part, not mine – with taunts of ‘bless!’, ‘Poor E.’ and ‘oh dearie me!’ (I ask you, is there anything more patronising than an exclamation mark?!) And so, these little head-pats in the form of texts were heaped condescendingly upon my little Amadeus (this is what I called my Amaryllis; I sang the eighties ‘Rock me Amadeus’ song to it in the same way as Prince Charles talks to his delphiniums). Nothing was working, my song fell upon deaf bulb-ears, it was growing with the speed of a bonsai and sleeping like a bear in winter. Meanwhile, photographs of my sister’s plant beanstalking its way to the ceiling pinged constantly on my phone. Then came a photo of a huge double bud, a day or two later the bud breaking, and finally a burst of crimson appeared on my phone like a dagger to my heart.
Once the pressure was off, however, once my peering and poking and pleading had stopped because I had unequivocally lost the race, and once I left Amadeus alone on the kitchen windowsill, gave up on him ever amounting to much, that’s when he came into his own with teenage-boy-style growth spurts and muscular flower heads bulking up by the day. One, two three, four of them (sister only had two flowers) until, on Easter Sunday, of all days, all four blooms opened their trumpets to the world in an unquestionable statement of extravagant radiance. What pride I had in my little tortoise that took its time in getting there but made it over the line with such bravura. Amaryllis, Amaryllis, oh, oh, oh, Amaryllis.