Whoopee, it’s Valentine’s day. Yahoo. Just feel that enthusiasm oozing out of MM. Tonight the cheesy numbers like engagement rings in champagne glasses will be out in force, and red roses will be clenched between the teeth of ageing “romantics” with beer guts sagging over the dangerously stretched elastic of leopard-skin G-strings, the forgotten price label hanging forlornly over drooping buttocks. Millions of roses, chocolates and bottles of champagne are being sold all over the world for a romantic non-event, much to the satisfaction of the commercial world’s powers that be. Moi, cynical non-believer? Yes, yes and yes. I am the Valentine’s day Scrooge, and I say “Humbug!” to Valentines consumerism. Oh, yeah, baby.
Somewhere in France, however, there’s a woman who is going to have a huge surprise this evening. The French media have been spreading the word since yesterday after an indiscreet tip-off by “La Française des Jeux” (who of course have no interest whatsoever in blowing their own trumpet). Here’s the lowdown: Mr X won the lottery a few days ago, and decided to keep it secret until tonight, when he will take her to a very expensive restaurant and give her the world’s most original Valentine “gift”: the news that he’s become a multi-millionaire. “Hoooow roooomaaaaaantic!” the media are screaming. Forget the breathtaking suspense of Charlie Bucket and the golden ticket. French women are holding their breath across the nation to know if tonight is their lucky night, and restaurants will be full of disappointed wives brandishing steak knives or sobbing into handkerchiefs after discovering that they didn’t win in the “2013 housewife discovers rich hubby” stakes.
Now I don’t know about you guys, but if P.F’s idea of a Valentine’s gift was to tell me he’d won a stack of dosh, I’d be a little perplexed. After all, it’s a gift that involves zero effort: you just fill in a lottery ticket, add a huge stroke of luck, and…. pow! A ready-made Valentine’s gift. It would be a bit like P.F handing me a voucher for 20% off at King Merlin’s DIY store, but in his name. Mind you, if he grabbed my hand over a plateful of foie gras, raised his glass and told me the mortgage was paid off, I’d kiss him fore and aft, and loop the loop. If he told me he’d taken a week off work, fobbed the kids off on willing takers and organised a week en amoureux spending the day finishing off all the odds & sods in the house – just him, me and my Super Mario painting dungarees -followed by evenings curled up in front of the fire with a beer and a bowl of dry-roasted peanuts, I’d marry him all over again.
But showing me a photocopy of a huge cheque in his name would frighten the living whatnot’s out of me. What happens to couples who suddenly find themselves bestowed with so much cash? Can Mr X stay true to himself now that he has enough cash to swap the battered Twingo for a Rolls, invest in the stock market, eat caviar for breakfast every day, take up golf and give up his job to tend to a newly acquired three acre garden of rare English roses? What exactly is the gift for Mrs X: being the other half of a very rich husband? Wondering how many of the friends she makes from today onwards are sincere? Having to worry and take out extra insurance incase anyone steals all the expensive, unnecessary junk they never knew they needed and will no doubt acquire within months of cashing the cheque? Even in the unlikely event of Mr X not changing one iota through the effect of all this cash falling from the sky, if I was Mrs X I’d be well worried and tempted to do a runner whilst I still could.
Do you see this as the ultimate romantic gift? Do you venerate Valentine’s day? We’ll be eating “en amoureux” tonight, but not for Valentine’s day: it’s our anniversary. 23 years ago, P.F and I queued in a park outside a restaurant as the snow fell. It was magic, standing in the snow with a Frenchman who had walked into my life and made me feel different. We sat at the table, fought off the man selling red roses, and laughed to see all the couples eating silently around us who had answered the consumerist gong with a strange Pavlovian reflex, but were simply going through the motions. After a Disney-esque heroïne-meets-frog-kisses-frog scenario, he was so happy that he skidded into the kerb on the way home and knackered his car, and was still beaming the next day. Now that’s romantic. So whilst the world goes mad and poor Mrs X discovers her fate tonight, we have something to celebrate: staying together in a mad world that so often drives people apart.