Jealous Hyacinth, Faithful Violet and Beautiful Orchid; Flowers, Language and Love

“They say that her limbs became rooted fast in the ground; and a livid paleness turned part of her colour into that of a bloodless plant. There is a redness in some part; and a flower, very like a violet, conceals her face. Though she is held fast by a root, she turns towards the Sun, and though changed, she still retains her passion.”

The metamorphosis of the nymph Clytie, who was in love with the Sun, into a sunflower. (Ovid; Metamorphoses 8AD) 


In Japan it is known as Hanakotoba (花言葉), “the language of flowers”. In Victorian England the study of floriography reached its cultural peak.

When it comes to matters of the heart, we commonly assume that flowers are more articulate than we are. A bouquet of roses or a single carnation are perfectly formed symbols of our desire. Quiet codes that we proffer in the hopes that they communicate a sincere feeling.


Left: Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose (John Singer Sargent 1885-6) Right: “Rose”; Source: Creative Commons, Flickr

In ancient Greek mythology, some flowers had their own creation myth; as in the excerpt from Ovid’s Metamorphoses above, such was often borne out of human drama, of love and rejection. According to the Greek myth, the flower Narcissus Jonquila was created after the handsome mortal Narcissus fell in love with his own reflection in a pool of water. Unable to touch and hold the image he was so besotted by, he died heartbroken by the waterside and his body was transformed into a white flower with a yellow centre.

It is the expressive aesthetic qualities of flowers that lead us to anthropomorphise them in this way, using them as emotional prosthetics. After all, what can convey passion more powerfully than the deep scarlet of a rose?

Its simple evocative beauty contains all the subtlety of a love poem.

The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows


n. the eerie, forlorn atmosphere of a place that’s usually bustling with people but is now abandoned and quiet—a school hallway in the evening, an unlit office on a weekend, vacant fairgrounds—an emotional afterimage that makes it seem not just empty but hyper-empty, with a total population in the negative, who are so conspicuously absent they glow like neon signs.


The dictionary of obscure sorrows

n. a quiet, museum-like place that exhibits complex and rarely expressed thoughts and emotions, in a singularly poetic and precise manner. Each description is like gazing into a sparkling silver little pond.

Go and have a look now.

Did Thatcher Destroy British Coal?

Three days on from her death and the debates are still fiercely raging about Margaret Thatcher’s time as PM. They all seem to revolve around the same theme: that Thatcher’s spiteful policies ruined lives and divided the country.

In the twenty-year period since she left office the debate has become criminally over-simplified and certain myths persist, almost entirely unchallenged.

The most significant of which is that she destroyed the British coal mining industry.

This is simply not true.

The fact is that she inherited an industry already in precipitous decline, largely due to increasing global competition from places like Australia, America and even South Africa. See the chart below:

Decline of UK coal industry

The majority of mine closures had already occurred under her two Labour predecessors, Harold Wilson and James Callaghan.

And the 1984 (UK) Monopolies and Mergers Commission found that 75% of British coal mines were losing money, costing the taxpayer an annual £1.3 billion in government subsidies.

The truth of which couldn’t be avoided: British coal was on life support and showing few signs of ever regaining consciousness.

All that was left to Thatcher and her Conservative government was to pull the plug –which they did.

It is perhaps here that one could take issue with the way in which Thatcher decided to handle it.  She viewed it not only as laying to rest a dying industry but also an opportunity to completely crush the trade unions, who she believed were destroying Britain.

So she fought ideologically with ideologues. And won.

But what was lost amidst all the political grandstanding, were the genuine fears and concerns of the coal miners, who for generations had only ever known that type of work and that type of life, and for whom the prospect of retraining and having to begin again was daunting.

And that was why they fought as hard as they did. However misinformed they might have been about the future of British coal.

Maybe if she’d tried to reach them directly and explain the economic realities of their situation, they would have understood that if they didn’t take the pain now that one day their children would have to. That they could be part of a new Britain, that they’d be helped through this cruel time.

But the actions of their union leaders, in the past, had ensured the downfall of her predecessor and Thatcher was determined not to suffer the same fate. The miners were unfortunate collateral.

Could she be accused of coldness? Yes. Arrogance? Maybe.

But, deliberately destroying the coal mining industry and the lives of the coal miners? No.

Their lives were, by harsh circumstance, caught up in an elephantine battle between two competing visions for Britain; against the backdrop of a rapidly changing global economy, beyond the control of anyone, least of all Thatcher.