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.


(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

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