Sunday, 15 February 2009

"Saint Valentine is past"

Valentine's Day was particularly insistent this year. I suppose it was the desperation of shops, restaurants, etc., who wanted a big marketing opportunity before Easter. A day later, the Valentine displays are still in the windows with racks of cards, gifts and ribbons unsold. It will be hard to persuade anyone to buy scarlet hearts and flowers for Easter.

Half of me likes St Valentine's Day, which has been celebrated in England at least since Chaucer's time. Shakespeare mentions it at least twice and there's a reference in Pepys' diary. It seems to have been a day for courtship and games. Later, Charles Lamb recorded the popularity of anonymous Valentine's cards. But today, with advertisements screaming their wares, it can seem slightly shameful to spend the day alone. Nowadays, Valentine's Day is for couples to parade their love before the world. I was touched and amused by awkwards young men unsure how to carry flowers but also annoyed that so many events advertised themselves for couples only.

An email list offered me an alternative diversion. I've a weakness for villanelles and sestinas so, when I was invited to attend the launch of a poetry book, I accepted, especially as the venue was a short cycle-ride away. The book, Desperanto, comes from the small Smokestack Press and the launch was a pleasant, hospitable occasion with a good audience, free wine or fruit juice and clear, enthusiastic readings by the poet, Mike Wilson. The poems were witty and played games with words and letters while remaining serious. I'd meant it as a free afternoon out but of course I had to buy the book - I can't resist that kind of wordplay. And it was such a rest from hearts and flowers.

I came out of the library and walked down the High Street. The vendors were struck with desperation, calling to potential customers. The price for a bouquet of a dozen red roses had fallen from £5 to £3. I clutched my new book and hurried past.

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