Rosita Boland: I broke the rules. And it all worked out perfectly

Green shoots of hope as Micheál Martin told us – rightly – ‘Today is a good day’

‘I bought a few little bowls as gifts. They were blue and white and inside was a kind of grow-your-own miniature lilies kit.’ Photograph: Getty

Back in December, I bought a few little bowls as gifts. They were blue and white and inside was a kind of grow-your-own miniature lilies kit. I duly delivered two of the three to friends, whom I met over dinner in the early part of the festive season.

Then the hospitality curfew kicked in, and the season became very unfestive, so I had to have a change of plan with the friend to whom the third pot was to go. She was to come to my house instead. Then she had a close-contact scare, so all plans were off. I ended up not seeing her again until a week or so ago.

None of us had thought or believed this day would ever come; almost all restrictions lifting within hours.

In the intervening weeks, I commandeered this nascent plant for myself. (Sorry, Jen.) I took off the cardboard wrapper and discovered a large pellet of what seemed to be dehydrated earth and five little bulbs, each the size of a clove of garlic. I had some work to do.

There were instructions. I soaked the pellet and it expanded with impressive speed, in the same way a balloon blows up. I filled the bowl two thirds of the way, then I planted the tiny bulbs, in a cruciform shape, and patted down the rest of the earth.


I looked at the instructions again. I was to put the planted bowl into a dark place for 16 weeks. Or was it 12? I can’t now recall, because I threw away the instructions. Anyway, the gist of it was that I should now put the bowl in a cool dark place for many weeks, visiting it once in a while with water to make sure it was still moist and thus growing.

After the 12 or 16 weeks, I was to take the bowl out of its dim quarters and put it on my windowsill, to enjoy the little flowers that had since emerged in the darkness above the surface, like some floral jack-in-the-box.

I was a bit distracted on the day I was doing this miniature indoor gardening task. I watered the bowl and then put it at the bottom of the dusty cupboard beside the front door where my ancient electricity meter still resides. The instructions had recommended I put the date in my diary as to when I needed to revisit it, and remove it from its dark shelter. I didn’t do that. Instead, I binned the cardboard wrapping with its instructions and went about my daily life.

Days passed. A week. Another few days. Every time I passed the dusty cupboard where the pot was incarcerated – which was several times a day, as it was beside the front door – I remembered it was there. I watered it once and then closed the louvred door on it again.

At some low level, I began to not like the knowledge that something was growing in my house, hidden away out of sight. Shutting the beautiful away out of sight is the matrix of dark fairy tales: the eponymous princesses in the tower.

They were, of course, just bulbs in a pot in the dark. But after so many months of being shut away by myself in my house, I decided to disobey the instructions and take the bowl out of the dark cupboard. I put it in my bathroom, on a shelf beside a window. I did all the things I was not supposed to do, according to the dimly-remembered instructions.

As it happened, I took the bowl out of the cupboard the day before Taoiseach Micheál Martin gave a live broadcast to the nation and told us “Today is a good day”.

At the time he was speaking, I was on the Dart out to have dinner with a friend in her house, because restaurants were still closing at 8pm. I didn’t hear his speech. I was looking out the window of the train, at the dark sea, wondering when all this would end: this reduced life we had been living for almost two years.

Then a number of texts started coming in, and at the same time my phone started to ring. One call was from a friend in happy tears. None of us had thought or believed this day would ever come; almost all restrictions lifting within hours.

When I got off the Dart, even though I knew my friend was waiting outside the station in her car, I took a couple of minutes to stand on the bridge at the station, looking out at the sea and listening to the waves. What I felt was pure joy, an emotion I hadn’t felt for so long I had almost – almost – forgotten what it was like.

My friend and I drank champagne that evening. The following day, I left my house at noon, and did not return until close to midnight. I had a lunch that lasted till about 6pm. Then I ran into other friends on the way home, and while I was with them, got a text from more friends who were in a nearby pub, and went on there too. It was not just a good day; it was a glorious day.

As for the bowl I was meant to keep in the dark for many more weeks, there are already five tiny green shoots visible just above the earth.