Around the middle of January I feel a prickling flutter of disquiet. I shake it off. But a week later the prickling develops in to a full-blown itch. A mental one (not the other kind… just so we’re clear). For, in February, there’s no avoiding them. They’re everywhere. In the supermarket, in the newsagents, there they are. The cards. I try averting my gaze but they’re so big and gaudy and… well… red… that it’s impossible for the eye not to be drawn to them. It’s all so commercialised I tell myself, loftily. Soppy cards, scarlet roses by the dozen or by the single stem, teddy bears wearing knitted jumpers demanding Love me in loopy stitches, what a cliché! Who needs any of that stuff? I do, a small voice inside my head replies. Well, ok then… not need exactly but…
Now I don’t know why it should be any tougher being single on Valentine’s Day than at any other time of the year, but I suspect that it’s going to be. And I need to arm myself against the pulse of melancholy and self-doubt that I sense crouching somewhere just outside my line of vision. And so, it’s Up-Shields and time for Fortress Sally to make an appearance. This bolder, braver persona is a useful stand-in for the Real Me. She’s breezily optimistic and makes rational well-thought out decisions. If only I can conjure her up because she’s not easily summoned. I concentrate hard. Ah… here she is. And, naturally, her very first suggestion is a reasonable one.
“Given what happened last year, perhaps no Valentine card and particularly no Valentine present would be an improvement?”
“Ah” The Real Me acknowledges “Maybe you have a point there”
Last year, before my big move from London to the country, I’d received from my then lover a Valentine’s gift that I admit now, I should have received with more grace. Or even with basic common courtesy. Stefan, a mature student at the Royal College of Art, whom I’d only been seeing for a couple of months, had presented with great ceremony a disturbing and frankly hideous giant frameless canvas depicting the entwined and thrashing limbs of a pair of plus-sized headless lovers.
“For you” He’d said. “You can hang it over your bed”
No way I’d thought. It would be enough to give me nightmares. Then I went on to ask him if the reason the cavorting couple were minus their heads was because he hadn’t yet progressed to the advanced level of life-class which covered the representation of faces.
“No Sally” He’d explained with studied patience “It’s symbolic. It’s because…” And here he’d stared meaningfully in to my eyes “In the throes of love-making we lose ourselves utterly in the ecstasy of the moment, thereby rendering our individual personal characteristics as meaningless”
“Right” I’d said and nodded gravely. But I couldn’t help recalling the somewhat pedestrian nature of his roll-on-roll-off sexual performance that morning, when not only had I remained in total command of my identity but, during his final thrusts, had even been planning my outfit for the forthcoming evening. Ecstasy? No. I’d had better. Much better. And perhaps, on reflection, I should have kept that thought to myself because Stefan and his painting had departed, highly affronted, some ten minutes later.
Fortress Sally looks knowing. And just a little smug. Then she has another suggestion.
“Instead of sitting around feeling sorry for yourself, why don’t you find out what other single people will be doing on Valentine’s Day? You’re a writer… or at least you sometimes get paid as one… where’s your curiosity? Where’s your spirit of research?”
Fortress Sally may be irritating, may be a little too sensible and bracing at times, but I’m forced to admit that occasionally she does have a bloody good idea.
I hit speed-dial
There’s a buzz of animated conversation in the background and what sounds like ice cubes chinking together in the foreground.
“Are you in a bar?” I ask
“Naturally” he replies, “Its after six. Where else would I be? So… how’s life in The Sticks?” I can practically feel him shuddering down the phone. As Features Editor for one of the magazines I free-lance for, he’s very London-centric. Anywhere outside Zone 1 is a foreign country to him. I explain my idea to him (alright, Fortress Sally’s idea)
“Get me 1200 words by Monday” he says “And keep it perky. Miranda’s very in to the whole Harry and Megan thing right now”
I’m surprised. Miranda, the magazine’s Editor-In-Chief is not known for her sunny outlook about love or, for that matter, anything at all.
“Got to go” says Niles and I hear him take a long swallow of his dirty martini “Places to go, more interesting people to talk to…” and he hangs up
Right, I’d better get on with some research. There must be something organised locally for single people to meet, compare notes and maybe hook-up? It can’t just be me that feels this way about Valentine’s Day, can it?
I’m about to discover that it isn’t.
And if you’d like to find out how I get on then read Cupid’s Arrow… A Misfire (Part Two).