It’s that time of year again. When we are exhorted to up our game when it comes to gourmet dinners, expensive gifts and mushy greeting cards. When we are asked to break out the fancy chocolate and those overblown hothouse flowers. When we are encouraged to go for the extravagant gesture that translates as excessive expense.
Yes, Valentine’s Day is around the corner and suddenly we are required to see life through the rose-tinted glasses of romance. Whisk your girlfriend away for a romantic minibreak. Surprise her with a diamond. Book a band to serenade her over dinner. (Sorry guys, but this is one time when you are expected to do all the heavy lifting while your better half sits back and prepares to be pampered!)
As I may have mentioned before in these pages, there is nothing I hate more than all this palaver. It’s bad enough to suggest that one day should be set aside to celebrate romance (if you ask me, given the hate we see all around us, we should celebrate love and lovers every single day.) But it’s even worse to take that day and commercialise the living bejesus out of it.
And that’s exactly what has happened to Valentine’s Day. Schmaltzy greeting cards flood the shops in the run-up to V-Day. Flower shops push up their prices to absurd levels to take full advantage of young (and sometimes middle-aged) love. And restaurants ditch their regular menu to come up with Valentine’s Day specials that always involve such ‘aphrodisiacal’ ingredients as oysters and asparagus (this seems borderline insulting to me, but then I’ve never been to one of these ‘special V-Day’ dinners, so what do I know?) paired with dodgy sparkling wine that they pass off as champagne.
Growing up when I did, I was fortunate enough to go through my teenage years without worrying about whether I would score a Valentine’s card of my own. There was certainly no pressure to find a date for Valentine’s Day – or be considered a loser forever. And nor was it considered mandatory to waste an enormous amount of money on this day to prove just how romantic you were.
Young people these days are not so lucky. Being home alone on Valentine’s Day is likely to reduce your status to that of social pariah. But if you are going out, guys, then be prepared to shell out the big bucks to prove just how devoted a lover you are. Bring on the roses, pop the champagne, and prepare for an evening of conspicuous consumption made tolerable by some mandatory canoodling.
Speaking for myself, I can’t think of anything more soul-destroying – or romance-ruining, or even bankrupt-making – as participating in this commercial exercise that goes by the monicker of Valentine’s Day. So my way of registering a protest is to stay at home, cook a simple meal, open a bottle of wine and then settle down on the couch to watch a good movie or TV series (which, to be honest, is what I do most days).
But if you want to push the boat out on V Day, don’t let me put a damper on your enthusiasm. By all means, spend a fortune on overpriced flowers, max your credit card out on buying the most expensive set meal ever, and surprise her with the stone of her choice. If you want to be a chump, then it is hardly my place to stop you.
If, on the other hand, you want to Just Say No to V-Day and its vanities, then here’s a handy guide to what you can do instead with the money you have saved:
* You can buy a bottle of champagne – the real thing, not all that sparkling wine nonsense – and invite your date over to pop it open ceremonially. Drink it in the privacy of your home (or your room if you still live with your parents), pairing it with a simple meal of smoked salmon, scrambled eggs and buttery toast. I am not sure if any of this stuff is ‘aphrodisiacal’ but I am pretty sure it will put you in the right mood.
* Book a spa break for you and your loved one over the weekend. Sleep in late, have a nice brunch, get massaged. Rinse and repeat. Bliss!
* Create a bespoke experience for your significant other. Buy the best bath products in the market and stock up on scented candles. And when she/he gets back from work, surprise her/him with a lovely bubble bath (bottle of bubbly and back scrub optional).
* Eschew cliches like jewellery and designer bags and find a present that is meaningful for your loved one. Find a first edition/signed copy of a book she adored as a child. Buy a piece of art that he admired as you walked past the art gallery. Or better still, if you are up to it, write him/her a love poem of your own, have a calligrapher copy it down, and set it in a beautiful frame.
And most important of all, don’t wait for Valentine’s Day to do all this stuff. Love is worth celebrating every day of the year. And lovers, even more so.
From HT Brunch, February 19, 2017
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