Wishing you all a most romantic St Vaseline Day

This is it.

Valentine’s Day.

As usual at this time of year I have been inundated with emails with fabulous gift ideas and I have to admit I have been seriously considering some of them.

After 38 years we have exhausted the classic range of love tokens and as I don’t like knick-knacks or soft toys it makes me hard to buy for (but ultimately rewarding).

Love poems, Shakespeare’s sonnets, soppy films, meals out, flowers, jewellery, we have exchanged all of these.


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Last year we formed a double entente – less fun than a double entendre – and agreed a Non-Valentine Proliferation Treaty. We simply exchanged cards.

Would any of my e-mails yield Valentine gold for 2011?

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I was not impressed by the pair of slippers – white fur effect with pink hearts, nor by the skimpy lace underwear. Pink doesn’t suit him. More unusual was the idea of giving my beloved husband Vaseline, albeit beautifully presented in a special pink tin. It is a giant tin that says it’s for kissable lips but there may be other uses. (No answers; no postcards, thank you). Holland and Barrett suggest their Sensual Chocolate and Vanilla Massage Oil (no, chocolate should be for external used only) and why anyone would lust after Kiwi’s “range of products to keep feet feeling fresh and comfortable for a wonderful Valentine’s Day”, I can’t think.

“Before slipping on your shoes, use Kiwi Foot Silk to make sure you really are drop dead gorgeous from head to toe.” No.

Companies that didn’t send me Valentine ideas include Black & Decker – why not put up a bookshelf and pop a copy of Pride and Prejudice on it? – and Qualcast: “What could be more romantic than mowing a heart shape into the lawn?”

In the end I was, however, able to give him the ideal surprise present.

I ironed his shirts.

It may not sound like much but I haven’t ironed anything for around six years. Of all the household chores I hate – and I hate most of them, ironing tops the list.

I loathe changing the beds; I abhor vacuuming but I have a violent antipathy to the steam iron. In fact, I think I might be allergic or at least intolerant.

As a result, we use a local ironing service. It is a luxury but I think of it not as an expense but as Monday afternoon. That’s the amount of time I save by not doing it.

My husband doesn’t mind ironing but prefers to do it on a shirt-by-shirt basis. He will haul out the ironing board when he gets up in the morning and then again after tea if he needs another shirt for the evening.

Our lovely ironing person had been out of action for a fortnight and the large laundry bag was full. Ever hopeful she would be back, I had put off reading the instructions that came with the iron until things got pretty desperate.

My husband had resorted to wearing shirts stashed away in the part of the wardrobe where no one ventures. For all we knew, there could be a door at the back leading to Narnia or, better, to a magical land where shirts iron themselves.

Here lie the shirts (a) in smaller collar sizes (b) in fluorescent colours or (c) made of 70s bri-nylon that make his chest hair stand on end.

By the middle of week two he was being strangled by tight collars, being offered samba lessons and having to earth himself from static electricity with rubber soled shoes.

Then I had my revelation. It was coming up to Valentine’s Day. I would make a grand gesture and iron his shirts.

It was hell.

I had forgotten how many separate parts shirts have and I couldn’t remember my old system. Was it side, back, welt, sleeve, cuff, sleeve, cuff, collar or was it side, side, back, welt, collar, sleeve, sleeve, cuff, cuff?

And how do you iron the bit with the buttons on?

As I carefully ironed each one I draped it over a hanger and... where did that new crease come from?

Why, in 2011, haven’t they invented a shirt that truly doesn’t need ironing, as opposed to non-iron shirts which, by and large I have found to be low iron rather than no iron.

Surely something imaginative could be done with Lycra.

I like it. Not only does a size 16 fit me even when I am nearer size 18 but it never needs ironing.

On a well-hewn male body with a sculpted musculature, Lycra is definitely my first choice. (See Linford Christie, Jonny Wilkinson etc) but they don’t seem to have come up with more forgiving garments in this springy material.

Men’s formal office wear hasn’t yet embraced Lycra but it surely won’t be long until we all walk around in Star Trek-style unisex outfits. Nearly every sci-fi film of the 20th century depicts a future in which men and women have homogenous, skin-tight uniforms.

Mind you, they don’t tend to cast men with beer bellies and women with spare tyres (or, as in my case an entire spare wheel plus a socket set).

Heigh-ho. So, Valentine’s Day came early for one lucky man who arrived home to find his wife had ironed all his shirts and put them on display, hanging from every door.

If I say so myself, they were works of art. There should have been a catalogue to accompany the Lynne Mortimer Valentine Exhibition.

1. White shirt in one hundred percent cotton, double crease ironed into left sleeve.

2. White easywear shirt in polyester cotton, shape of iron visible on right side.

3. Casual striped shirt in brown and pink with contrast material on inside cuff and bit sticking up on button-down top pocket.

Eat your heart out, Damien Hirst... actually, don’t do that, Damien. It’s not a commission.

My ironing was a long way off perfect but my husband saw it as the expression of true love it was intended to be.

I know this because he collected them all up without saying a word – I think he was in shock – and created a special space in the wardrobe to accommodate them.

It was, perhaps, the most unexpected Valentine gift ever. I did it because I love him.

But next year? Maybe a tin of Vaseline.

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