Well no-one saw it coming did they? Certainly not the Conservative conference staff nor the million-pound security team and certainly not poor Teresa May distracted as she was by her persistent tickly cough. And so comedian, Lee Nelson, with all the worlds’ news cameras on him, marched smartly up to the stage and presented a P45 form (from Boris Johnson, he claimed) to the spluttering Prime Minister. There wasn’t a heavy hand in sight, well not for some long seconds, so May all alone, pinned behind her penal podium, had no choice but to take the form and politely put it on the floor.
Lee Nelson (real name Simon Brodkin) is a comedian who likes to perform public stunts. Pranksters nose-tweaking the rich and powerful have been around for centuries of course (remember the 1990s and Dennis Pennis?) “Culture jammers” or media tricksters who like to provoke VIPs for a laugh, often to make a point or to simply to knock them off their lofty pedestal. As Teresa know nows pranks like these are not side-splittingly funny. They are often rather crude and obvious yet with humour they provoke us, wake us up and say something about the ways of our times. Pranks can be brutal, even rather bullying, but they take guts to carry out (imagine the heart-rate of Nelson leading up to Tuesday) – and we should applaud the determined creative expression.
There’s a flower for nose-tweaking – literally. Nasturtium from the Latin ‘Nasus tortus’ meaning ‘convulsed nose’. And so for the Victorians nasturtiums meant jesting or a joke. Brightly coloured, rich and deep like jewels – ruby, garnet and citrine – so they sparkle and shine, the funsters of the flowerbed, beaming and charming and showy.
Nasturtiums then, say someone who is humorous, spontaneous and sociable. Lee Nelson might like to think himself so and he’s lucky. He was arrested for disturbing the peace but amazingly no charges were made – suggesting Teresa May has taken her massive security breach in remarkably good humour.
A well-known foodie May might better know Nasties in her kitchen. The flowers and leaves are edible and have been used in many a dish, from soups to sandwiches. They have an intense peppery taste, a bit stronger than watercress, and are often used to give a meal some punch (hence ‘nasus-tortus’; the screwed-up face made after tasting a particulary strong one). Indeed during the rationing years of World War II, dried ground nasturtium seeds were used as a substitute for black pepper.
Packed full of vitamins (Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and Vitamin D) and available in a variety of colours from vibrant to muted, and come with variegated leaves or plain. Cheerful and edible they are also used, in the summer, to invigorate salads. Easy to grow Nasturtiums are great companion plants too. Plant them with tomatoes, radishes, cabbage, cucumbers, and under fruit trees. They are good guard plants too – deterring pesky bugs from aphids to beetles. Some are fairly dwarfed whilst others can grow on vines, climbing five foot or more.
The healing properties of Nasturtiums have been long recognized especially, in their native home, South America. The Incas of Peru used the leaves in a tea to treat coughs, colds and the flu, as well as respiratory problems (advisable then Teresa, to have a cup before a big public speech…) High in vitamin C, nasturtiums can also act as a natural antibiotic, and were used as such as a poultice for minor cuts and scratches. Recognizing their medical qualities and to impress their Royal patrons, travellers bought them back to Europe where they were grown in the Palace gardens of Louis XiV. Known then by the botanical name, Tropaeolum majus, after the Greek meaning trophy or prize. And of course what was good enough for the king was going to be good enough for all.
Nasturtiums are also known for their sweet perfume. The Incas believed that their scent embodied vigour and vitality. This notion, together with their combat helmet looks, have led to an association with bravery in the face of enemies (and patriotism.) So next time you are on the big stage Teresa take some nasturtiums with you – they might well serve you better than your expensive ‘security’ detail.