Another year, another increasingly desperate attempt to find something light-hearted and not too serious to write about the orgy of capitalistic pseudo-romance that is Valentine’s Day. As ever, I should stress that I’m not actually suffering from heartsick lonesomeness, I just like to pretend I am for my own amusement.
Even when I was happily loved up, I never celebrated Valentine’s Day. It’s never been a particularly meaningful festival for me, partly, I think, because it’s connected in my mind with a succession of awkward teenage experiences. You see, a girl of my acquaintance – who presumably needed much stronger glasses – used to shower me with ‘anonymous’ gifts at Valentine’s, and I had to try and find a way of subtly hinting she was barking up the wrong tree without outing myself because I was, to slightly misquote Jonathan Harvey, ‘so far back in the closet I was in Narnia’. (Her story has a happy ending, by the way; she ended up as a surgeon, and subsequently married an anaesthetist. I met them, briefly, a few years ago and they seemed very happy. They’d just spent their summer holiday in America, teaching at a bible camp for teenagers. So, all in all, she should probably count her blessings that she moved on from the Godless gay heathen.)
Anyway, yes, Valentine’s has never really had much meaning for me. But, for those people who do find meaning in the occasion, it strikes me that shops advertise for it in a very peculiar way. Over the last week or so, I’ve seen adverts for several supermarkets, all pointing out their special offers for the day. You know the kind of thing: a bottle of cheap fizzy wine, and a bouquet of flowers, and a supposedly ‘premium’ ready meal, all for some obviously cheapskate sum of money. These ads are clearly aimed at men (hence the ready meal; in advertising-land all men are incapable of anything more adventurous than using the microwave), but the thing that astonishes me is that it doesn’t seem to occur, either to the men watching or the companies advertising to them, that if they have seen the advert it’s odds-on their wives or girlfriends have, too. And that if, as a sign of the esteem in which you hold your partner, you present her with the precise combination of items she knows you picked up from Tesco Express for £10 on your way home, she’s probably going to be a little miffed. Heated discussions, quite possibly featuring the words “you could at least have gone to bloody Marks & Spencer”, would seem to be likely to ensue.
If there is any occasion on which it’s less appropriate for companies to loudly proclaim their cheapness, I can’t think of it. Unless, of course, the couple concerned have agreed not to spend a lot on Valentine’s, perhaps because they recognise it’s a hollow, empty sham, heavily promoted by retailers desperate to get the tills ringing in the long, fallow period between Christmas and spring, and that any sensible couple keeps their celebrations for their anniversary, which actually has personal significance. But here’s the thing: if you have agreed Valentine’s is a load of old cock, why are you celebrating it at all? That’s almost worse than taking it seriously. At least, if you’ve commit to it wholeheartedly, you can claim to have been so swept up in the romance you didn’t notice the commercial considerations, but if you notice the commercial considerations and play along anyway it’s like you’re hoisting a large sign above your head loudly announcing that you’re willing to be knowingly exploited…
…which is, in fact, exactly what I do when I fulminate about the pseudo-bonhomie of Christmas being largely manufactured by retailers, but still spend money sending presents to people…
So, yes, I may not have much of a leg to stand on here. (But I still think it’s odd: “I saw these manky, half-dead roses wilting in Morrison’s and I thought I would give them to you as a symbol of everything that you mean to me…”.)
Anyway, let me end with the traditional* song for tragically single (but not actually bothered) people like me. I’ve opted, this year, for a Smiths song – ‘Never Had No One Ever’ – but as performed by Billy Bragg & The Blokes. It’s possibly his most technically impressive vocal performance, and also the only Billy Bragg record I know to feature a raunchy brass section (not to mention one of the few records with multiple saxophone solos that doesn’t immediately make me start to think about the possibility of blocking my ears with hot candle wax – perhaps because the longest one is, I think, played on a bass sax, rather than the ubiquitous tenor sax). Apparently even Johnny Marr has been heard to express the opinion that he rather likes it, but I’ll leave you to make up your own mind (and sorry it’s a bit quiet).
* – That’s ‘traditional’ in the sense of ‘has appeared in only one of my three Valentine’s day posts before this one’. As I see it, the whole of Valentine’s is an invented tradition, so what’s another one?