On a grey March day in 1987, on a day filled with sleet, snow and hail, a daffodil greeted me in Hyde Park. I was reminded of it as I saw the first buds of daffodils pushing out amongst the blackberry bushes along Montlake this morning.
It was my first time in London. Indeed, I had never before been to Europe. Three months into this flight attendant thing, and I hit the Reserve Jackpot, being called in to cover a sick crew member for a trip across The Pond. I grabbed my over-packed suitcase and scurried off to the airport.
We touched down in London in the early morning hours, having winged our way across the Atlantic overnight. Bleary-eyed, stupefied by lack of sleep, and yet desperate to not waste a single moment of this legendary city, I hastily changed out of my blue uniform and into jeans and sneakers.
I tumbled out of the revolving doors of the hotel, and the foreignness hit me like the cold London rain. Exhilarating, a bit forbidding, and a jolt to my senses.
“Mind the curb. Look Left. Way Out.” Even the signs seemed to blend British understatement with formal politeness to my naive eyes.
I walked down cobbled streets, wide boulevards, and twisting lanes. I let my fancy lead me, and wondered if to passersby, I looked like a shiny penny, testing her worth for the first time is a big foreign city.
It was cold, a damp piercing chill, in stark contrast to the eagerness I felt burbling in my bones. I burrowed deeper into my coat as the rain and sleet did their best to pelt me into submission. My feet lead me to Kensington Gardens, a name that seemed so grand and royal, how could I resist? I pressed on along the River Thames (THE RIVER THAMES!!!) and on winding paths until I found myself in front of a large Marble Arch.
I didn’t know much about London or English history back then. Names struck me as vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t put them together with any historical events. Certainly not that big white arch.
I’m not sure I’m much better at it now.
Historical gravitas aside, I was lured deeper into the gardens by the lush greens of the grass, and the weeping of the willows. And there, under the shelter of trees were daffodils. Great ebullient clumps of them, bowing and dancing a polka in the stiff March breeze. Is it any wonder that the French word for yellow, “jaune” and jaunty seem to share the same root?
Simple flowers, really. But disarmingly poetic in their innocence. For a girl who grew up thinking orchids were ordinary and boring, the satiny elegant yellow and faint perfume of those daffodils were intoxicating. I could not get enough of them. I flitted from patch to patch of these blooming carillons of sunlight, and thought this is what it must be like to be in one of those Disney animated forests.
Sadly, twenty four hours passed too quickly, and soon it was back on the plane, back across the Atlantic.
I guess I COULD have gone to museums, shops and tea in London. Or a pub. I do think I made it to Harrod’s at some point. In a city with so much to offer, it almost seems a shame that I spent my afternoon amongst daffodils. But it’s those vibrant gilded bells that I remember best, and what for me, will always be my warm English welcome.