St. Valentine

vintageholidaycraftsdotcom

My Oxford Dictionary of Saints is informative but confused on the subject of St Valentine: there may have been two Roman martyrs of the same name, both male clergymen of the early Christian Church. Fascinatingly there is no British church with this dedication which may hint that in this country at least there were always doubts as to the Valentines’ authenticity. How the saints became associated with lovers and carnal love is by no means clear though it is interesting that the name can be used by both sexes: Valentine is universally applicable, and how apt is that. There’s Val Doonican of course, and remember Valentine Dyall “The Man In Black”? And Maurice Chevalier’s saucy song “Valentine” about a light of love who spectacularly loses her looks:

” Hier, sur le boulevard, je recontre une grosse dame
Avec des grands pieds, une taille d’hippopotame…”

Talk about laugh!

Most authorities seem to think that our feverish red rosey modern celebration is all tangled up with the old belief that birds mate in mid-February and that this became associated with the reputed martyrdom of the saints around this date, at a time of Roman festival. This, I think, gives a wonderfully optimistic twist to 14th February even if one is crossed in Love and sitting all alone by the gas fire. It’s a day of starting afresh, of recommencement; late winter sunshine shining out just for a day, if only symbolically; a token of life renewed; the beginning of the end of winter.

For see how the days are drawing out already and the energising earthy smell of early spring is just perceptible; the chthonic scent that galvanises the instincts of the animal kingdom and which has such a powerful subliminal effect on us humans. I saw my first powdery green daffodil on February 6th ( a personal record) and delicately musky snowdrops are lighting up the garden in clumps of pearls. The tang of new parsley is once again in the air.

Do you know Thomas Hardy’s wonderful poem The Darkling Thrush – recently recited to great effect on The Archers. Hardy comes across this poor old bird ” ..frail, gaunt and small ” singing his heart out in the bleakest blackest winterscape. And thinks that no doubt

” …there trembled through
His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
And I was unaware.”

Need one say more? Be my Valentine?

Advertisements

Three Minute Sermon

IRIS

I walk out into my back garden and down the lane to the fields where at this  time of year the warm air smells like the best perfume shop in the world. There’s a bed of old-fashioned blue bearded iris beneath the kitchen window in ground as dry as dust; they are flourishing, as they have done for years, in what is little more than sandy grit. Ultimate low maintenance. They need no care or attention whatsoever: they just get on with it and for three weeks every year they smell like the plains of Heaven.

‘Consider the lilies of the field how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin and yet I say unto you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these’.

The mesmerising enveloping langourous fragrance of iris is truly out of this world. It’s the roots, the rhizomes that are used in perfumery but if you’re mad about scent please don’t forget to poke your nose into those weirdly orchidaceous flowers adorned with their hirsute inner crests dusted with golden pollen. You’ll find it difficult to move on, to return to reality.

The scent is soft, powdery: its summer’s evening warmth is enhanced by the cool silkiness of the petals. There’s a sophistication, a poise about the perfume that reminds us that the iris, not the lily, was the inspiration for the French heraldic fleur de lys. These flowers give off a note that is very close to aldehydic, a knowing stately nod to Mlle Chanel and her stable of scents created by the chemical genius of Ernest Beaux. He must have loved this flower named after the Roman goddess of the rainbow, arching her body across the skies in her mantle of many colours.

Finally tearing myself away from the Mysteries of Iris I go down the fields with a bucket and spade in search of horse manure for my roses. The meadows smell like the Caron Paris boutique, truly. You sidle in off the road, negotiate the stile and the scent comes close to knocking you over. Clouds of keck, cow parsley, Queen Anne’s Lace crown the grass with endless dancing webs of creamy flowerlets and pollen. Here I inhale that gorgeous note of hay that haunts the depths of all the Daltroff classics: green, sneezy, warm, peppery, sweet, close, simultaneously very dry and faintly damp. Here it is, free for all, on the edge of the cow pasture intensified by hawthorn and new grass. The smell of burgeoning nature, growth, reproduction, fertility and life.  Truth stranger than fiction: reality stronger than artifice.