The most romantic day of the year, or a dismal trudge through kitsch commercialism? Valentine’s gets put through the ringer.
I’ve never been a fan of Valentine’s Day. My thinking ties in with the ‘A dog is for life, not just for Christmas’ vibe. Sitting at a table with a heart-shaped napkin on it (not for more than two hours, mind) and eating from a set menu of dishes called such enchanting things as ‘Swoon-tastic Spaghetti’ and ‘Dangerous Liaison Crème Brulée’ (actually, making up these titles is harder than it looks: hats off – then firmly back on) doesn’t take away from the fact that I’ve been cheating on you with Gareth from accounts for the last four months, who’s at an identical table a few miles away with his wife, sending me teddy bear emoticons under the table.
‘Who’s your Valentine?’ is demanded of you wherever you turn. Who is it, seriously? There must be someone. No one? Not even Stephen from primary school? Surely you can look him up on Facebook and send him a Toblerone or something? You don’t want to? You total, total loser.
I think it’s the commercialisation I object to the most. How many things rhyme with ‘you’? Billions, it turns out: ‘true’, ‘too’, ‘blue’, ‘few’, ‘do’. Ones you don’t see so often include ‘screw’ and ‘spew’, which are surely much more in line with most people’s Valentine’s experiences – if they’re lucky. Yet we play the game. Last year, my betrothed and I spent the evening huddled over a formica table in a packed Italian restaurant in Soho, having to resort to sign language because it was so loud. Which is probably why he couldn’t tell me until it was too late that what I was gleefully pouring over my Swoon-tastic Spaghetti was not chilli oil but molten red liquid from the inside of a weird, posh candle. How we laughed, until the stopwatch bleeped and we were turfed off our table for the next sheepish couple. It’s like everyone knows they’re slightly playing make-believe. We’re all in our respective nativity plays, wearing clothes we don’t normally wear, reciting the lines.
I’m not saying romance isn’t important. Of course it is. Only the other week, I painted my other half a picture of all the ingredients of his favourite dishes – spaghetti bolognaise, BLT and chocolate cake – apropos of nothing (‘Wow!’ he muttered, craning past it to see his history documentary. ‘Did the baby do it?’). But surely a necessary component of true romance is spontaneity? There’s something a bit bleak about a dead-eyed violinist skulking up behind your table as you begin to tenderly spoon dessert into your lover’s mouth; the sudden, violent onset of Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’ causing your hand to jerk and smear his whole face with chocolate mousse.
I’ve spent plenty of Valentine’s Days single, and had much more fun than when I’ve taken part in the cavalcade of lemmings trudging through town. One year my mates and I watched ‘The Wicker Man’ and made food to go with it – a jelly baby in a cage of waffles. And that beats ‘Love Me Tenderloin (of Pork)’ or ‘On the (Chicken) Wings of Love’ (I’m showing off now) any time.
Isy Suttie’s memoir ‘The Actual One’ is out now. www.isysuttie.com
Illustration: Nate Kitch