FRIDAY 13th. Time to don the bubble wrap and protective headgear, avoid ladders, leave plenty of time to catch the train, and for the chaps, unless you want to be wearing the hard hat for the entire weekend, write yourselves a large memo so you don’t forget what tomorrow is and can turn up with a card.
If you were thinking of getting me one – I live in hope – leave it till Monday when all things heart-shaped are half-price and they’re flogging the roses off cheap. I always appreciate a bargain.
You might think that someone who has spent a great deal of her writerly life dealing in romance in one form or other, would embrace the celebration of St Valentine with somewhat wider arms. You may imagine your average author of romantic fiction floating about the home in pink chiffon, exchanging Snugglebum messages with Coochie-face, preparing salmon delights and chocolate-coated strawberries to have with the champagne, while the deliveryman arrives bent beneath the weight of floral gifts.
You would be wrong. My theory is that we scribes make up romance for the same reason as so many millions read it. It’s in jolly short supply in real life. It would be fair to say that for about 20 years I generally received a card on Valentine’s Day and more often than not, a bouquet to boot. This was largely by dint of writing instructions in large felt tip in my husband’s diary mid-January and by teaching my son, as soon as he could speak, to repeat “Buy Mummy Flowers” whenever I gave him a Pavlovian shove through the door of his father’s study. Now my husband very sensibly leaves the country and I, apart from noticing the price of blooms has gone through the roof and you can get all sorts of “eat-in” bargains in the supermarket, (one small mercy at least – sitting in a restaurant, having to watch all those other couples slobbering over each other is enough to put anyone off their Nipples-of-Venus-to-share ) treat it as a day like any other. A quick straw poll among my friends suggests this is not unique – even when their partners are the other end of the sofa.
In novels, men may be tall, dark, handsome and capable of producing tickets for a romantic break in Paris without being asked but in reality, in my experience, they are more likely to shriek “How much?” and remind you that there’s an important league match that weekend and the only thing they’ll be holding close is the remote.
We read the books and the myth continues because we long to believe that our fictional heroes who have the florist on speed-dial and understand about candlelight and Belgian chocolate and the element of surprise, are out there somewhere. Even if the evidence to the contrary – “they double the price on Valentine’s Day/I can’t see what I’m eating/Won’t that make you fat?/You get it and put it on my credit card” – is overwhelming. I have always thought it might be generous to send a whole bunch of cards to those who will be least expecting them so that they – however old, ugly, malodorous and socially unacceptable – might feel loved and cherished and experience the frisson of excitement that comes from never quite being sure who would go to such trouble. (The only time someone did this to me, I kept the handwriting for years.) It’s not too late to hit the shops. Give someone a marvellous shock tomorrow. Show that kindness, romance and the spirit of surprise are not totally dead. But look both ways before you cross the road today – or you might be!