Tuesday 14 February 2006

Be my Valentine

Valentine’s Day. Another brilliant reason to feel (a) miserable, (b) guilty or (c) both, particularly if you’ve just ended up wearing half of an expensive candle-lit dinner for two.

It pains me to report that I last received a mystery valentine when I was 15. That was the third year the alluring Wendy had sent me a card smothered in kisses. I didn’t know anyone called Wendy. In fact, I didn’t know any girls full stop.

Then my mother’s best friend, Maisie, dropped dead of a heart attack and the flow of cards stopped. Far from featuring in the dreams of some adolescent cutie, I turned out to have been an object of pity for a sweet-natured though comically obese sexagenarian.

Which, now I come to think of it, is about as near as I got to sex for another decade.

I still shudder when I recall the sixth form party where a girl called Amanda, who was well known to snog anyone, rejected my advances with the immortal line ‘When your friend said you had film star looks, I didn’t think he meant Orson Welles.’

I’ve sent lots of unsigned cards over the years, and in only two cases has this led to the recipients seeking court injunctions. The real reason I have stopped is that I can no longer face seeing a woman’s face crumple with disappointment when I finally give up under the barrage of questioning and admit. ‘Oh, all right. It was from me.’

None of this is intended to suggest that I have led an entirely celibate life, though from what I read in the papers I have probably had a rather quieter time than the average Catholic priest. Things definitely looked up in the years when I had a good job, flat, car and prospects. Women seem to be so much better than men at weighing these practical things in the balance against the lack of a beautiful body and/or a sense of humour.

Only last year I had a cracking Valentine’s dinner in Venice, with a beautiful young woman who, in a moment of temporary insanity, had become engaged to me. Nothing went wrong, apart from the growing volume of shrieks from the Essex girl at the next table as the contents of her wine glass went down.

Having eaten out at ten different Venetian restaurants in the space of five days, and had an English couple at the next table every time, I can exclusively reveal that we are world leaders in perceiving the romantic qualities of Venice. Not a top choice, then, if you want to be able to whisper sweet nothings without being understood by your neighbours. You’d probably be better off in Middlesbrough. And how often in this life does one get to say that?

While nothing went wrong on Valentine’s Day 2005, plenty went wrong shortly afterwards and I am not expecting my postman to be suing for industrial injury as he lugs an extra-heavy sack of love tokens to my remote dwelling. In fact, I plan to seal up my letter box up to avoid disappointment.

Still, it’s a fine tradition, and jolly considerate of the early church to come up with a feast day so promising for florists, confectioners, jewellers and restaurateurs. And so conveniently timed right in the middle of the lull between Christmas and Mothering Sunday.

Cynics suggest that St Valentine never actually existed, and that his feast merely puts a Christian gloss on a pagan festival, timed at the point in the year when birds start pairing up.

But let’s bin that unromantic thought and remember that all the world loves a lover, though not necessarily if he’s serenading under your bedroom window at three in the morning, fuelled by 17 pints of lager.

I hope that your Valentine’s Day is filled with fun, laughter and – above all – love. If it isn’t, and you’re female with a working pulse, feel free to call me.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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