How I learnt to stop worrying and love flowers

Like many men, Henry Jeffreys just couldn’t get the hang of buying flowers. But then he finally saw the light…

Like many men, Henry Jeffreys just couldn’t get the hang of buying flowers. He even thought florists might be involved in a shady conspiracy to fool us all. But then he finally saw the light…

By Henry Jeffreys

About 20 years ago, I was living in Barcelona trying unsuccessfully to learn Spanish. So unsuccessful was I that I lost my job working in bar called The Golden Rock Café (a straight rip off of the Hard Rock Café) because I could not understand a word anyone was saying to me.

The manager would say ‘Henry, tenedor! mesa cuatro!” and I would start mopping the floor or give him a cigarette rather than delivering the missing fork to table four. I was the Manuel character in an unfunny Spanish remake of Fawlty Towers.

I did, however, meet a young Danish lady who I attempted to woo. When we were out drinking Cava, I’d be approached by street vendors attempting to sell me red roses for la rubia (the blonde.). I’d shoo them away gracelessly and resume my clumsy attempts at romance.

The only time I bought her flowers was on Sant Jordi’s Day, the patron saint of Catalonia. On this day the tradition is for novios (lovers) to exchange gifts, flowers for her and books for him. It seems terribly old-fashioned but it’s actually very charming. My novia loved her flowers and I was pretty pleased with my copy of A Farewell to Arms because I’d run out of English language books and had been reduced to reading and rereading a book of Will Self short stories.

The thing is, I never learned the lesson. I don’t think I ever bought flowers for her again. Nor did I buy flowers for any subsequent girlfriend. I ignored the evidence of my own eyes and thought that women couldn’t possibly actually like flowers. It was all a conspiracy made up by the card companies or some shadowy conglomeration of florists.

On Valentine’s Day I would look pityingly at the men on the tube with their flowers or at the girls in the office with big bouquets pretending to like them. I knew better, I’d bought a good bottle of claret for my special lady and then wondered why she looked so cross.

It was only when I met my future wife, who after moving into my flat in Bethnal Green, spent Sundays at Columbia Road market. She’d fill this place with flowers and overnight it went from a crash pad to a home. Very slowly it dawned on me that there is no conspiracy: women really do like flowers.

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After this epiphany, I began to brave flower shops, which I found totally overwhelming. “What sort of flowers do you want?” the florist would ask me.

“I have no idea, Pretty ones I suppose,” I’d reply. “Nothing too gaudy.”

“How much do you want to spend?”

Again I had no idea, how much is a lot? When you don’t get flowers, any amount seems baffling. The staff would look at me with pity, thinking, “he’s probably done something terrible and he’s trying to make up for it with flowers.” Honestly I hadn’t. I just wanted to be romantic and spontaneous and ended up all confused.

I’d return home sheepishly carrying a bunch more suitable for leaving on someone’s grave. Or worse, the kind of thing that might look good in the lobby of a German bank but hardly screamsI love you’.

But over time I gradually began to appreciate flowers. They don’t necessarily have to say anything. They just need to exist and make your home more beautiful.

And I learnt, very slowly, that not all florists are created equal. Some have taste (or at any rate, some have taste that chimes with my wife’s), and others don’t.

It’s not easy to find the right florist but now I don’t have to because we have a weekly delivery from Freddie’s Flowers. I’m not entirely sure, however, who is more excited about the delivery, me or my wife, because whisper it… I now love having flowers in the house.


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Henry Jeffreys writes about drink, books and popular culture in The Spectator, The Guardian, The Oldie, The Lady and many other publications.  He is the author of ‘Empire of Booze’  – a history of Britain told through alcoholic drinks. 

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