Ellen Widdup’s escape to the country

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I’VE hated St Valentine’s Day since I was nine years old.

It was 1988 and February 14 fell on a Sunday – awkward for anyone wanting to declare their undying love by Royal Mail.

On the Saturday, I spent all my pocket money on a card for a blonde, blue-eyed Adonis in my school year.

I carefully wrote his name in multi-coloured felt tip, copied his address from the phone book, and, before popping it in the postbox, applied a thick coat of my mother’s red lipstick and sealed it with a kiss.

On Monday morning I eagerly waited for the postman and was delighted to receive a solitary card decorated with a pink heart, a single “?” scrawled inside.

“It must be from him,” I thought, my heart humming with joy as I swallowed the last of my Rice Krispies and set off for school.

It wasn’t. It was from my dad. He owned up later that evening and I managed to disguise the crushing disappointment by pretending I knew that all along.

What nobody realised was that it was my second disappointment of the day. At school the boy I had sent my Valentine to had been passing it round the class, sniggering as his friends smeared the lipstick mark and tried to guess who had sent it.

I sniggered along with them, red-faced and desperate not to be found out.

I’ve never sent a card since. Not even to my husband of five years.

What’s more, I actually feel nauseous when I spot shops crammed with heart-shaped balloons, cheap champagne, soft-centred chocolates, tarty satin lingerie and fake red roses.

And I can’t stand the rows of sycophantic cards in various cerise hues bearing slogans like “be mine”, “for the one I love” and “kiss me quick”.

What makes me laugh is that the Valentine’s Day, in its present incarnation as a commercial free-for-all driving huge sales of chocolate, flowers and jewellery, is a far cry from its historical origins.

It began in ancient Rome, celebrated as Lupercalia, a pagan fertility festival where young men would strip naked and use goat or dog-skin whips to spank the backsides of young women in order to improve their fertility. Romantic? I think not.

There were at least three men by the name Valentine in AD 200s, who were all tenuously linked to tales of love and all died horrible deaths as a result.

They included a priest in the Roman Empire who is believed to have restored the sight of a blind girl who fell in love with him. He was beheaded by Claudius II on February 14.

Another was the pious bishop of Terni, also tortured and beheaded during Claudius’ reign by order of a Roman prefect with the oxymoronic name of Placid Furius.

And the third secretly married couples, ignoring a ban of marriage for men eligible to join the army. Claudius killed him too.

Valentine’s Day is first referred to in relation to love in the writing of Geoffrey Chaucer and again by William Shakespeare in Ophelia’s lament in Hamlet.

But it was in 1913 that Hallmark got their mitts on the concept of the anonymous Valentine and started churning out the sugar-coated tweeness we see today.

Which brings me neatly to 2013 – a whole 100 years of revolting mushiness later - when love-struck losers are predicted to fork out an epic £880 million on Valentine’s rubbish in the UK this month.

It’s utter madness.

And before you start sending me emails about how heartless and bitter I am, stop right there.

I’m actually a bit of a sucker for romance and I’m head-over-heels in love with my husband.

He is handsome, brilliant, talented and funny. He is infuriating, antisocial, arrogant and argumentative. He is a fantastic father, an amazing writer and a really awful dancer. And I love him for all those things.

Which is exactly why I won’t send him a saccharine card on Valentine’s Day with a cliché “roses are red” ditty inside.

Because love is unique. It is different for every couple.

And if you ask me, Valentine’s Day just tries to make it all the same.

When everyone is doing it, at the same time and in the same way, how can it be special? How can it be yours?

This is why I feel desperately sorry for anyone who has been proposed to on Valentine’s Day.

If it were me, I would wonder if the man I was to become betrothed to possessed any sort of imagination.

I would suspect he was just part of the not-too-exclusive fraternity of men who think they’re being clever by asking a trite question on the most obvious day of the year.

And what about the singletons out there? Do they really need to be reminded once a year that they are yet to find The One?

I have to say I was cheered when, earlier this week, I read that a town in Suffolk was one of the most unromantic in the UK.

A survey, carried out by a perfume company, found that couples in Newmarket spend an average of £14.25 on their partners on Valentine’s Day in comparison to Reigate in Surrey, where they splash out an astonishing £200.

Maybe I’m not the only one in this county who thinks Cupid should holster that damn weapon and put some clothes on.

Please email me at EllenWiddup@journalist.com or find me on Twitter @EllenWiddup.

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