The Blog

Total Abyss of the Heart

Valentine's Day shopping cannot be the only means for making love become a transitive, active verb.

It was a Valentine's Day Massacre.

Somewhere in a UK supermarket, they've hanged the bears in readiness. Suspended above boxes of truffles and Milk Tray; dangling, Damoclean, above bottles of red wine, a dozen hanged furry companions as a warning. Pour ne pas encourager les autres. Miss Valentine's Day - the bears seem to gasp out in their agony - forget to buy her flowers, or chocolates, forget his fillet steak or wine - and it will be a hanging offence, laying what remains of your relationship on the altar stone of martyrdom. Is it all, quite literally, too much to bear...?

Love is big business these days. Interflora has released its 'Ultimate Love Bouquet' - a 'snip' at £195. The usual restaurant menus rules apply: even the canteen of the school where I work is advertising 'Romantic Chicken Goujons', for all the lovestruck teenagers gazing at one another across some breadcrumbed bliss, and 'Ice Cream With Heart-Shaped Shortbread' for dessert, mixing crumbs and cream like memory and desire.

And it's not just restaurants which are offering 'hot date' possibilities for this Friday night. At the London Aquarium you can have a Shark Feeding night out with the one you love, adding that frisson of fear to the predatory festival of consumption. Or why not visit the Bristol Science Centre and dissect a heart - a special offer for precision cynics who know that heart-shaped shortbread isn't anatomically correct. Not convinced by dinner for two? Reach for your scalpel and find out what lurks within your heart. Chambers - not bed chambers. Valves. A system where a quickening beat means danger, not excitement - a health risk, not a life-enhancing thrill...

On a popular radio breakfast show this morning, the presenter read a listener's text on air. 'I'm taking my wife out for Valentine's Day tonight,' he'd texted proudly. 'It's the same menu as on Friday night, but much cheaper during the week...'

In a world where furry toys are hung like captured game trophies above the boxes of chocolates and the well-selected wine, it's all about the money. It's like a modern-day King Lear love-test: you have to buy extra-expensive presents, or your love means nothing. Don't give her snowdrops, as a sign of spring returning or new growth. Give her roses out of season, which have earned more air miles than you have, or have been hot-housed somewhere in an uncomfortable parallel to a controlling, dominating lover. This is not just Valentine's Day. This is S&M Valentine's Day... Give her chocolate, more chocolate, strawberries dipped in chocolate, chocolate until she is so sated she's staying with you only because she can no longer move, becalmed across the sofa like a truffle-laden whale. Give her enough to drink - Prosecco and pink champagne are in this year - and you never know your luck. The Sunday Times Style Magazine had a guide, last weekend, for hapless partners wishing to purchase lingerie for their would-be Valentines. A local department store sent a mailing-list email yesterday, from which partners could choose items from a shortlist and forward the message hintingly to their partners: the heading 'I Want This', a tragic sideswipe at the thought of love...

But just this evening, something made my day. A Facebook advert from my local Dental Practice, who are introducing Practice Gift Vouchers with the slogan: 'Never again will you be stuck for a gift for your loved one...' As dentists like to do, it made me smile. It's the ultimate in Valentine's Day massacres. 'Darling? Are you saying you... didn't buy me flowers? You... didn't book the expensive restaurant? Well then sweetie: it's like this. I've booked you in to have your cavities exhumed, and I'm hoping the hygienist will have a good poke in between your molars, just for fun. Oh, and I've hanged your childhood teddy bear...' Pick your treatment to suit his style of misdemeanor: if you think he's really gone beyond the pale, there's always root canal...

And as for me? On Valentine's Day, always assuming that I make it through the week to Friday night, I shall probably have a quiet night at home. There may be wine. There will be reading. There will be laundry or housework to do, and conversation to be had. And there will almost certainly be an unofficial race to see who falls asleep first in front of the TV. For we are old and cynical. We have seen the dissection of the heart and told the tale. We have seen the torment of the harmless cuddly toy to meanings which its furriness never intended. We know that too much sweetness sets your teeth on edge; too much fizz, your anatomical heart will burn and your tired head will ache. Not martyrdom. Not cliché. Not the same old tired gestures of a thousand adverts.

Valentine's Day shopping cannot be the only means for making love become a transitive, active verb.

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