penny for them

After a fairly miserable weekend weather-wise, Monday dawned bright and sunny and positively spring-like. So I took the opportunity to gather some violets for my desk.

violets

(In the photo they are on the book shelf simply because it’s tidier than the desk.)

The few manky plants I liberated from the bridle path two years ago – to save them from being eaten by the neighbour’s sheep – settled well into our garden and are happily reproducing in impressive numbers. Even so, I wonder how could anyone ever gather enough to make it worth bunching and selling?

I think I picked something over three dozen this morning but I still don’t really have a vase small enough to support them. I’ve put them in a demi-tasse that I had for dolls’ tea-parties when I was a child, and the fact that I photographed them on the book shelf where I have most of my miniature books is pure serendipity.

Perhaps the numbers of violets that are needed to make a proper bunch explains why I think of them being sold twisted into posies with a frill made of leaves. But how on earth much would a labour-intensive product like that cost these days?

In My Fair Lady, Eliza Dolittle bemoans “Two bunches of violets trod in the mud” as “a full day’s wages”, though I don’t think Shaw actually put a hourly equivalent on the flowers. In that scene in the play, Freddy’s mother gives Eliza sixpence, although his sister tells her that the violets are only a penny a bunch.

I managed to find a note on the McCarter Theatre Website that says “a girl such as Eliza would have earned around £38 a year.” Assuming that she worked seven days a week, I think that works out at about two shillings a day (38 x 240 / 365), or the equivalent of selling a couple of dozen posies of violets in a day, not just two.

mimosa close-up
There are fascinating things to be found on-line, but one thing I didn’t find when I was looking the other day, was the origin of “mimosa, lovely mimosa!”

I thought this was a coster’s street cry along with “Penny a bunch, violets!” or perhaps “Sweet violets all a-growing!”

I suspect I could find the phrase in a book, as the human brain can recognise “lovely”, “luvverly” and “lahv-ley” as essentially the same word. As far as I am aware, there is as yet no way to get Google to do that kind of search.

Author: don't confuse the narrator

Exploring the boundary between writer and narrator through first person poetry, prose and opinion

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s