In the last few months I have embarked upon a seemingly simple and straightforward task of buying myself an Aspidistra. So one bone clenching winters day I set out to do just that.
Aspidistras were a staple of pre-war ornament. They have loitered casually in the corner of most parlours, private and saloon, sipping in the smog of city air. Being of hardy constitution and resilient in the face of poor gardening they did a good job of this since their introduction to Britain in 1822.
George Orwell took them for his own in his novel ‘Keep the Aspidistra Flying’, to provide a symbol of middle-class mediocrity. To this end his character Gordon Comstock rallies against this ideal, throwing himself into impoverishment and wretchedness in the name of a romantic notion of artistic poverty. Since then the Aspidistra has floundered in popularity, disappearing from the English home, being replaced with a TV, a spiky palm, an Äsvpiddystrke from Ikea etc and so we come once again to my task.
The first florist grimly told me that he did not sell them, that he did not know where I could get one and he could, maybe at a small charge, pick me one up but not before March. The second laughed as though I had told her a joke (perhaps the one about the Aspidistra and the nun). She did say that she stocked single leaves and that if I was really desperate then she could do me a cut price on buying say 20? Then I could stick them in a pot of soil and pretend. Not quite good enough. So suffice to say I learnt, after a few more enquiries that you could not buy an Aspidistra and that the Aspidistra is the florist’s biggest joke.
Although the Aspidistra may have disappeared in physical presence from our lives, they do have an important place in history. Churchill famously threw one through a window of Number 10 after hearing of Britain’s defeat in the ‘Battle of Singapore’. Then there is the infamous 1926 ‘Aspidistra Two’ whose brief stint as Britain’s most wanted inspired Bonnie and Clyde to later dabble with the law. So for good or bad the Aspidistra’s presence remains in our collective history and now future.
So with all this in mind I would like to introduce Aspidistra, in it’s newest incarnation.