My Petersfield Post column from this week. Enjoy ... or don't. Whatever ...
This Friday is February 14: Valentine’s Day. A day married women still hold in high esteem and a day married men tend to remember less than the birthday of their favourite footballer or the anniversary of their first taste of beer.
For single men, it’s different. They need to demonstrate their affection. It’s not that married men aren’t romantic – many of us aren’t but that’s a personal flaw not a gender issue – it’s just that having, surely, made the ultimate declaration of our love at the altar (or the library nowadays), does it need to be reaffirmed annually on an arbitrary date? I remember the date of my wedding anniversary every year and always shower my wife with a flower, so why should February 14 be different to any other non-anniversary day?
This was actually a genuine question I posed myself – so I decided to research St Valentine to discover just why he was the patron saint of guilt trips. Apparently he dates back to the third century and was canonised thanks to a Roman patrician by the name of Clintonius Cardus, who apparently knew a thing or two about making money.
An orphan, Valentinus – from the Latin Valentino, meaning over-priced clothing – was placed in the care of a married couple, a Mr and Mrs Sday, who were friends of Clintonius and his wife Hallmark. Now, mother and father Sday had a little cottage industry making cute teddies – the cuddly little ones with legs, not short nightdresses – holding hearts bearing messages such as ‘Te Amo’ or ‘I came, I saw, I bought you this’.
Valentinus was a clever lad and discovered helium, and subsequently, after six months of inhaling the stuff and talking like a Roman Joe Pasquale, he had a commercial idea and started inflating sheep’s bladders with the gas. He got a local artist – inbetween his shifts as a public baths pornographer – to paint on messages. These started basically, with legends such as XVIII, XXI and XXX, but they proved hopeless as rural roadside milestones, as many places were much further away than XVIII miles, so he started selling them as birthday souvenirs through the chain of stalls set up by Hallmark and Clintonius Cardus. On the plus side, he did give us the term ‘country mile’, as in the distance between Rome and Venice was only XVIII ‘country miles’.
But then, sadly, at the age of just 33 he was killed after a giant statue, commissioned by Clintonius Cardus, of a gargoyle rampant carrying a shield with the words ‘world’s best gladiator’ on it, toppled from plinth IV of Trafalgus Forum and landed on his nut.
Clintonius Cardus, who by now had a chain of stalls on markets across the Roman empire selling what was commonly known as celebratus tat, was devastated, as were mother and father Sday, whose bears featured heavily in Clintonius’ stock.
His coffin, which fittingly bore the legend, ‘world’s deadest corpse’ was borne aloft by card-carrying pall bearers – the cards on this occasion reading ‘We will miss you’ and ‘Good luck in your new home’ – and was covered in wreaths comprising individual chocolate lettering and costing the best part of year’s wage for the average Roman. When they lifted the coffin lid it played happy birthday and everybody wept.
Valentinus was inexplicably a national hero; he was loved by all, and people from across the Empire sent mother and father Sday cards of condolence – all sold by Clintonius and Hallmark.
Clintonius petitioned the Emperor, Augustus Bank-
to have Valentinus elevated into sainthood and so it was that we have
Valentine’s Day on February 14 in modern times. Originally, he was to have been
made the patron saint of plumbers – a day to be celebrated every year on
January 16, but he didn’t turn up. So that job was given to Maturinus the Pole
and Valentine lives on for ever in our memories as Raffles and that horrible
piece of work Major Mohn in Colditz.
Feel at liberty to give this document to your kids as part of their research for Valentine’s Day – but make sure to charge them through the nose for it. We must uphold the traditions.