My funny Valentine

Mum and Dad pictured at Seaham, Co Durham, during their courting days in 1956 when Dad was stationed at RAF Ouston during National Service. They began to court after Dad sent her a Valentine’s card
Mum and Dad celebrating one year of courtship with a dance at the Royal Albert Hall on 23rd March 1956. They became a couple after Dad had sent her a Valentine’s card

This week is the celebration of St Valentine where couples across the land will exchange cards and gifts and make the effort to spend a bit of quality time with each other. Or maybe they’ll just pretend it isn’t happening.

One year, my husband failed to make any romantic effort whatsoever, declaring importantly that it had all become far too materialistic and that it was just a cynical way for businesses to make more money. I very politely explained that I knew he’d forgotten, and invited him to sleep in the garden.

I have no strong feelings either way about it when it comes to other people and believe that couples should be free to choose whether or not to celebrate it. But I embraced it, at least in a smallish way. We had busy lives which meant we didn’t have much time purely for ourselves for the rest of the year, so Valentines’s Day gave us a rare opportunity to have that bit of time just for us. It also meant that I was on the receiving end of flowers, bubbly and chocolate. What’s not to love?

I can understand that if you are naturally a romantic sort, and you spoil your other half all year round anyway, then you might think Valentine’s Day is a bit pointless. But sometimes in long-term relationships, the romance seeps away over time and can even vanish altogether. Some might need a bit of a prod to spoil their partner, even if it is just for one day a year.

While writing this, I asked my 20-year-old son if he or any of this friends would buy any girls a Valentine’s card, and it was a resounding ‘No’. He said young people would not bother sending a card when they communicate online all the time anyway. He also pointed out that today, if your heart’s desire turns you down, the potential for mass public humiliation is immense. In my day, if a boy sent a card, but his love was unrequited, then only a small circle might ever find out. No instant messaging to hundreds of online friends back then.

So the tradition of sending an anonymous card to someone you have your eye on has pretty much died out. I think it’s a shame, especially as I have discovered that it was just such a Valentine’s card that brought my parents together.

Aged 20, my dad had his eye on a pretty girl with whom he had shared a dance at the Glaisdale Institute at the start of 1956. He knew she lived in the neighbouring village of Lealholm, and as Valentine’s Day approached, plucked up the courage to send her a card from RAF Ouston, near Newcastle, where he had been posted for National Service. As was the tradition, he didn’t sign it, but because of the postmark mum worked out who it was from. She was obviously impressed by the romantic gesture and agreed to meet him on March 23rd 1956 at the Young Farmer’s Annual Dance at the Royal Hotel in Whitby. It was the start of a romance that lasted for more than 60 years until Dad died in 2017.

In his column from 17th February 1979, Dad explains that there were other occasions where practising love divinations was common, but St Valentines Day was considered the most auspicious.

This belief is thought to have first been mentioned by Chaucer in his 1382 work ‘A Parlement Of Foules’ in which Nature decrees that the birds shall choose their mates on St Valentine’s Day. It is also one of the earliest mentions of the day being associated with love and partnership.

Shakespeare refers to it in a Midsummer Night’s Dream with the words:

‘Good morrow, friends, St Valentine is past;
Begin the wood birds but to couple now.’

According to my dad, some girls would go to extreme lengths to secure a love. One ritual was to enter a churchyard at midnight with a handful of hempseed, and walk around the church a number of times. On the way home, the girl would scatter the seed while quoting a bewitching verse.

The first boy she saw picking up the seeds the next day was destined to be her true love.

So how many of you will be putting in your orders for hempseed now, I wonder?

Read more at Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug

This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times  on 15th February and the Gazette & Herald on 13th February  2019

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