A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


Death & The Maiden
Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Maiden:
Pass by! Oh, pass by!
Go away, fierce man of bone!
I am still young, go my dear!
And do not touch me.

Give me your hand, you beautiful and delicate form!
I am a friend, and am not come to punish.
Be of good cheer! I am not savage,
You will sleep softly in my arms!

Death and the Maiden - Franz Schubert

I don't dare buy Reginald Hill's latest The Death of Dalziel (with a far more interesting title in the UK of Death Comes for the Fat Man - Death of Dalziel). I have read all of Hill's Dalziel (pronounced deal) and Pascoe novels and all of his stand alone novels, too (over 25 in all). But I just don't have the nerve to read this one yet to find out as I did with Colin Dexter's The Remorseful Day of the death of the novel's protagonist, Inspector Morse at the end of it.

Only today I made the connection between my sickly Rosa 'Maiden's Blush' and Franz Schubert's String Quartet No 14 (Death and the Maiden) or Schubert's 1817 lied song Der Tod und das Mädchen from which the second movement of that string quartet is based on. When I hear the quartet or the song I brood but I feel nicely depressed. I feel the same when I listen to Miles Davis playing All Blues with that obsessive Paul Chambers bass vamp.

Eight or so years ago I had the last of my terrible weekly migraines. With age I might have outgrown them. I noticed in those last years that I had few migraines in June and July. I quickly found the reason. In June and July I deadhead my roses and fuss over them and smell them. This is so relaxing that whatever stress I had in my system was dissipated by the roses.

One of my favourite Dalziel & Pascoe police procedurals set in Mid Yorkshire is called Deadheads. In this 1983 novel the scene opens with an old woman deadheading roses. She is suddenly aspproached by a young boy. He shows some curiousity so she explains to the young boy, her niece's bastard son, what she is doing:

'Why do you do it?' demanded Patrick.

'Because,'she lectured, 'once the the flowers have bloomed and begun to die, they inhibit - that is to say , they stop - other young flowers from developing and blooming. Also the petals fall and make the bush and the flower-beds look very untidy. So we cut off the blooms. It's called deadheading.'

By the end of that chapter Patrick is being instructed by his great aunt on the art of deadheading. He has posession of the extremely sharp knife.

'Patrick,'she said taking a step back. 'Patrick!'

There was a sting on her bare forearm as the thorns of the richly scented bush dug into her flesh. And then further up, along the upper arm and in the armpit, there was a series of sharper, more violent stings which had nothing to do with the barbs of mere roses.

Mrs Aldermann shrieked once, sent a skinny parchment-skinned hand to her shrunken breast and fell backwards into the rose-bed. Petals showered down on her from the shaken bushes.

Patrick watched, expressionless, till all was still.
Then he let the knife fall beside the old woman and set off running up to the house, shouting for his mother.

This delightful book features chapter titles that are the names of real roses with short descriptions which somehow reveal the action of the chapter. Since Patrick's mother is called Penelope one of the chapters is appropriately called Penelope, a hybrid musk rose. But the ones that made me laugh are Dandy Dick (the first chapter): Floribunda. Clear pink, erect carriage, almost a Hybrid Tea. And the last chapter, when all the loose ends are resolved, is called Félicité Et Perpétue.

All the above has a connecting purpose. I have two favourite roses, Rosa 'Maiden's Blush (also called Cuisse de Nymphe Emu, Incarnata, La Virginale, La Séduisante) and Rosa 'Reine des Violettes'. Both have a fungus disease called Botrytis cinerea. After struggling for five years to check the disease I have come to the conclusion that these two roses in our wet spring weather are pre-disposed to Botrytis and I must uproot them and throw them away. Even today (check the picture above) amongst all the yellowing and aborted buds, both roses produced a few beautiful and fragrant blooms. I have another Maiden's Blush in a different section of the garden that is fine so I don't feel as terrible a pang about doing in my maiden. I recently purchased a clean Reine des Violettes and she will replace my sick one. I am saddened. If you consider all the other names Maiden's Blush has you have to realize that she does seduce.

But at least when I am deadheading my roses with my secateurs I need not watch my back.

More secateurs


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Zemblanity, Moscato & William Boyd

Alexandra's Spade

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A Shropshire Lad

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Gene Simmons & Isaac Asimov

W. H. Hudson's Little Girls

Kate & Anna McGarrigle At The Holiday Inn Steps

Mary Magdalen (e)

Bill, Bob, Mike & Jack & The Boys From St George

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