We knew the Botanic Garden would be busy on account of the celebrity appearance -- for one night only! -- of the Titan Arum flower. Unfortunately, we underestimated quite how busy. By the end of the first hour of queueing, I was getting restless and whiny; so you can imagine how the dozens of small children in the queue were behaving.
Eventually, after a foot-numbingly tedious period of standing in line, we finally drew near enough to see the glasshouse. By this time it was getting dark, and it was impossible to see anything beyond the glasshouse entrance except the extruding tendrils of nameless vines and creepers. Once inside, we were cocooned in plant life on all sides; oversized flowers and swelling fruits hung heavy around our heads, and signs spoke ominously of Natural Predators.
It was only once we'd been queueing for a few minutes in this overgrown vestibule that we realised what was wrong: nobody was coming out.
"No wonder the plant's so successful," said sion_a, darkly.
Peering into the darkness ahead it was possible to see a dozen or so people in front of us, but after that the line would turn a corner through some doorway which was barely visible under the thickly-twined foliage. I felt as if we were wandering through a labyrinth, inescapably drawn to the centre, with the plant as the reeking horned monster at the centre. Or perhaps, with the trailing vines and stalks all around us, we were actually trapped in a vast vegetative web spun by some seed-sprung spider; just the human blow-flies coming to perform the grotesque ritual of pollination only to be devoured, mantis-like, after servicing the plant.
Slowly the queue was sucked in towards the light at the centre of the maze. "Can you smell it yet?" I asked. Neither of us could. The leafy corridor grew hotter, more moist, throbbing like the artery of some putrid, pulsing organ.
Finally we found ourselves facing the plant. It stood, statuesque, beside a strangely incongruous ornamental pond full of goldfish and lilies. It looked unreal, waxen, priapic and preposterous with its spadix thrusting towards the ceiling and the roseate, fluted lips of the spathe spread delicately -- or as delicately as anything so cavernous could attempt -- around it.
But the smell. Where was the smell? Where was that sickly sweet scent, that putrefying perfume, that charnel-house Chanel of the plant world?
Well, to cut an already-overblown story short, the smell was -- as it were -- to be sniffed at. There was a brief whiffy wave of something that was indisputably past its best-before date, but frankly I've smelt worse student fridges. "Poo!" cried the small children as they got near, holding their noses theatrically. Meanwhile, the adults leaned over, inhaling expectantly, wanting to be disgusted by the smell but only being able to muster a slight wrinkling of the nose.
We were hustled past the plant fairly hastily -- "There's lots of people waiting outside," said the attendant, as if this was news to us who had been patiently queueing for 2 hours -- and out of the stifling glasshouse into the cold night air.
And an owl hooted, and we walked back to the car.
The Titan Arum only flowers for 2-3 days, and the flower is only perfect for a few hours. We waited for 2 hours to see it; that particular plant has waited 20 years to flower. I wonder if it would consider that it was worth the wait to spread its petals and be appreciated, for just a few hours, for what it is.