I wouldn’t say that I try to impress my boyfriend’s parents, but: if you’re reading this, Robert and Mary, you’re totally brilliant!
I jest, of course. I don’t try to impress Robert and Mary – as I am over 40, feel totally able to be myself around them, and they are very forgiving people. But I confess that I hope they like me, that they know how much I love and care for their son, and that they realise I am a Grown-Up who is capable of keeping a Nice Home.
Not least because I am possibly still trying to prove the latter point to myself.
As I flatshared through my 20s and 30s, never truly able to make a place my home because it was always someone else’s, I always hoped that I had it in me to be such a Grown-Up. And since buying my own little flat two years ago, I confess that I’ve found great joy in both creating my own home, and feeling house-proud as a result.
I’ve bought furniture. I’ve découpaged some of that furniture. I’ve framed photos – and not even in clip frames, oh no. I mean properly, ie like grown-ups do, ie with mounts.
I’ve also started buying flowers for the place. And by ‘the place’ I naturally mean ‘myself’.
I’ve bought flowers for myself before, of course, and not just because I was single. But now that I’m in my own place, I’m buying more – because I regard them as pretty much the easiest single thing you can do to a home to instantly make it a more joyous, more pleasurable and more pleasantly smelly place to live.
I don’t go crazy – I don’t always have flowers in the flat; when I do it’s limited to one bunch; and that bunch is probably made up of lilies, tulips or daffodils, ie flowers that cost between £1 and £7 and never more than a tenner. Yet because they’re ostensibly one of life’s luxuries, rather than necessities – even when they only cost £1 – I feel like I’m treating myself every time I buy them. Which only ups the pleasure rating, of course. If I earned more money or lived in a larger place, I could see myself buying flowers for every room – in fact, I could easily become like Elton John, who famously racked up a £290,000 bill for flowers because, as The Independent pointed out, he could. Although obviously I’m not saying I’d spend £300k on lilies – imagine the smell! – but merely the same equivalent percentage of my income as Elton John’s. Which is probably about, yes, a tenner. Clearly, for now, I am a poor man’s Elton John. The Phil Collins of flowers, if you will. (“I can feel it coming in the air tonight… because I can smell it as soon as I walk through the front door. It’s lilies, isn’t it?”)
But I digress. Because the point is: now that I like to have flowers, I’m wishing that I’d held on to more vases over the years.
During The Flatshare Years I often left vases behind or gave them to charity shops. And the only reason I had any in the first place was because I’d been given them. Without wishing to sound like a terrible ingrate, back then, vases felt so grown-up to me. TOO grown-up. They felt a rather unnecessary item to have in one’s home; a frippery that I couldn’t really justify owning. Not only because I only ever seemed to have flowers to put in them on birthdays – which was, conveniently, when I’d receive the vases – but also because I quite honestly thought: what’s wrong with a pint glass? Or a half-pint glass? Or a wine bottle? The latter makes a fine stem vase for a gerbera, for example.
Now, in my defence: not all pint glasses are created equal. When I talk about putting flowers in pint glasses, I don’t mean this sort – which you probably had several of in your kitchen cupboard if you were ever a student because you’d nicked them from pubs (well, you didn’t, obviously. Your housemates did):
Classic pint glass (from ‘The Hare And Hounds’)
No, I mean this fine figure of a pint glass:
Modern pint glass (from the ‘Fancy-Dan’ range at Habitat)
Now, not only does that latter not look like stolen goods but it also, to an untrained eye, looks not unlike a vase. And a few years ago – nay, a few weeks ago – I would have considered it to be a perfectly fine vase substitute.
But then Robert and Mary came to lunch.
Ahead of this event, I bought some daffodils. Because, as we’ve established, I now buy flowers; and secondly, I knew that these daffs would make for a pleasant table decoration come Saturday lunchtime.
Not having a vase of the right size – because I own precisely one vase, and it is huge – I put them in a pint glass. Thus:
Initially, I thought this was fine (and look! I wasn’t kidding about the découpage). But then over the next few days, something rather strange happened.
I found that, the more I looked at these flowers, the less they looked like an arrangement of daffodils in a glass vase and the more they looked like a bunch of daffs shoved into a pint glass.
I suddenly realised how pathetic they looked – and how, at the age of 41, with a home, a job, and curtains (not a sheet or duvet or ethnic throw) for curtains, I no longer had to choose which of my drinking glasses I was going to have to sacrifice for two weeks while it doubled up as a vase. A pint glass is no longer an acceptable substitute for a vase, I realised. Even if that pint glass cost £1.50 from Habitat.
So the next day, I bought a vase from, yes, Habitat. (Look, there’s one right next to my office. In fact it’s one of only a handful left in the country now, so I consider it my duty to help keep it going. Plus, it’s a good place to spend 20 minutes on a lunch break. Every lunch break. There’s nothing I don’t know about their bedding range.)
I chose one which I liked and which I thought my boyfriend would like, too, because this is how I think now (ie. unselfishly, thoughtfully, and with one eye on living together). And I put the daffodils in it. Thus:
My satisfaction at how much better this looked was equalled only by my satisfaction at knowing that I had successfully passed some sort of rite of passage. I was now a Proper, Over-40 Grown-Up: capable not only of hosting a lovely lunch, but also of realising what was no longer socially acceptable.
Lunch went without a hitch, and I don’t think Robert and Mary noticed that they were drinking out of vases.
And what’s more: the next time I was killing (lunch)time in Habitat, I found myself spending more time in the vases department. (I think it’s a department. It might be a section. I think the differentiation between the two is rather like biological classification: class/order/etc. I think a department is bigger than a section, but not as big as a floor. But I’m not sure. And I digress.) It was if some sort of spell had been broken: I no longer saw vases as dull, unnecessary household items but rather, as beautiful objects that were necessary to make the joyous, happy, smelly presence of flowers even more so.
I particularly coveted a round, glass vase in the Habitat collection (a collection being part of a section) – and in fact, I realised that the seed of Vases Being OK Really was planted some months before Daffodillunchgate, when I went to a house-proud friend’s for dinner, and she had one such round, glass vase with white roses in it, and it looked gorgeous.
So imagine my delight when, in one of my other lunchtime-killing activities, I found exactly such a round, glass vase in a charity shop near work. It cost £5, a mere fraction of the Habitat price – and if there’s one thing more satisfying than helping to keep Habitat afloat it’s helping to keep the YMCA going.
And here it is:
The only thing more delightful than how it looks, how little it cost, and how that money went to the YMCA, is the fact that the lady in the shop thought it was a goldfish bowl.
Which is sweet – but I had to laugh. Because as we all know, a goldfish bowl is not an acceptable vase substitute.