Friday, January 7, 2011

Still Life with Chairman Mao

Still Life with Chairman Mao - Photograph by Tim Irving
Still Life with Chairman Mao - Tim Irving
It used to be a tradition in junior schools that children would bring a flower bulb, a bowl, and soil into class on the last day of school before Christmas. We all planted our bulbs in our labelled bowls, then the teacher would store them in a dark cool place and we would forget about them. Months later when spring had arrived, on the last day of school before Easter, our bowls were returned to us to take home. But now they were magnificent, with spring flowers about to burst into wild shapes, it was exciting. And we proudly showed our families and basked in the praise of what we had grown.

Well it didn't work out that way for me. I spent a Saturday morning in Woolworth's selecting 3 handsome hyacinth bulbs plus a container. On Monday morning as I was getting off the bus (while it still moving), on my way to school that day, I dropped the paper bag containing the bowl and it shattered on the ground. It was a good bowl too. A rich brown, glazed earthenware bowl that cost 5 shillings (5/-). I entered the classroom with 3 hyacinth bulbs and a bag of dirt.

Our teacher tried to rescue the situation by suggesting to another pupil (who had a large bowl, but only 3 small snowdrop bulbs) that I could share her bowl, and with little encouragement she agreed. So together, Helen Cowhill and I planted our bulbs. The teacher put the bowls away and we went home to celebrate Christmas. If you haven't guessed the end of the story you must be as dim as me.

On the last day before Easter all the bowls were placed at the front of the class. The teacher picked up each bowl, read the label on it and called the child to collect their flowers. Before the first name was called (but 3 months too late), It dawned on me that my hyacinths wouldn't be going home with me. I looked across the class at Helen who must have been watching the cogs in my brain click into gear, she had a smile on her face like the Cheshire cat. I wont pretend I was noble or dignified and gave in gracefully, because I didn't. I kicked up a fuss and made myself look silly.

Of course I hold no anymosity, it's all water under the bridge, but for the past few years I've bought a single hyacinth bulb in December. My latest hyacinth growing in water, is in the still life above.

Have a good weekend!

1 comment:

  1. Ouch, very painful stuff at the time, isn't it. It provided some good story fodder, though. And better yet has become the genesis for a touching personal tradition. I'm a bit pissed at the teacher.

    Now, about Mao. What a surprising and unusual grouping. I love it. Wonderful lighting. The value contrasts are dramatic but not shocking. When I click to enlarge I can see the backdrop color better, and the whole scene reminds me of foreign films I've been watching this past year. Movies about places that are landlocked or cold. There is a certain shabby richness to some interior scenes.



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