An Alternative Valentine’s Day

No cards. No flowers. No chocolates. No boozy dinner at an upmarket restaurant. Today, we celebrated Valentine’s in a different way.

Since Christmas my David and I have been doing the green thing of not giving each other cards. Over the years, we have exchanged cards for birthdays, anniversaries and all the big holidays. We saved these in our personal filing cabinets, most of David’s to me have been transferred to a plastic storage box with other paper-based memorabilia and my writings that pre-dated internet clouds. We both know full well that in our senile dotage, these overpriced cardboard confectioneries are going to the recycle bin, which then goes to the overflowing waste management centre, where currently less than 60% of recyclables are recycled.

Recent years have also seen us both clean up the clutter around us, and 2022, after my milestone birthday, became the year to cease card-giving and consequently, card storage. No jokey Christmas greetings or 25th wedding anniversary of rhyming sentiments written by strangers. Instead, we wished each other happy Christmas and anniversary and washed down special meals with good wine. Chink.

As with Christmas cards, there is also an historical case against exchanging Valentine’s Day cards and gifts. A little internet research (okay, not peer-reviewed) reveals that St Valentine of Rome was added to the calendar of saints by Pope Galesius in 496 even though he was martyred in 296 for performing weddings for soldiers who were not permitted to marry. This lovers’ day did not see the exchange of cards and gifts until the 19th century with the industrial revolution. Like so many customs, the festive day had become commercialised, a chance to sell mass-produced cards, sweets and flowers. We’re not so much breaking with tradition as we are fighting consumerism.

Within this Hallmark-free zone we celebrated Valentine’s Day by going to a pub in our town of Ely, partaking in the two meals for £25 lunchtime special. Yet, stingy doesn’t mean we are devoid of sentimentality. While waiting for our meals, we talked about this blog and my wish to end it on a love poem that isn’t soppy. Without hesitation, David said, ‘”An Arundel Tomb” by Philip Larkin.’

Side by side, their faces blurred,   

The earl and countess lie in stone,   

Their proper habits vaguely shown   

As jointed armour, stiffened pleat,   

And that faint hint of the absurd—   

The little dogs under their feet.

Such plainness of the pre-baroque    

Hardly involves the eye, until

It meets his left-hand gauntlet, still   

Clasped empty in the other; and   

One sees, with a sharp tender shock,   

His hand withdrawn, holding her hand.

They would not think to lie so long.   

Such faithfulness in effigy

Was just a detail friends would see:

A sculptor’s sweet commissioned grace   

Thrown off in helping to prolong   

The Latin names around the base.

They would not guess how early in

Their supine stationary voyage

The air would change to soundless damage,   

Turn the old tenantry away;

How soon succeeding eyes begin

To look, not read. Rigidly they

Persisted, linked, through lengths and breadths   

Of time. Snow fell, undated. Light

Each summer thronged the glass. A bright   

Litter of birdcalls strewed the same

Bone-riddled ground. And up the paths   

The endless altered people came,

Washing at their identity.   

Now, helpless in the hollow of   

An unarmorial age, a trough

Of smoke in slow suspended skeins   

Above their scrap of history,   

Only an attitude remains:

Time has transfigured them into   

Untruth. The stone fidelity

They hardly meant has come to be   

Their final blazon, and to prove   

Our almost-instinct almost true:   

What will survive of us is love.

  • Philip Larkin (from The Poetry

Have a happy eco-friendly anti-consumerist Valentine’s Day.

The Arundel tomb that Larkin was referring to. You can just see the couple handing hands.