I have had to interrupt my transmission about adventuring in the Orient to get something off my chest. If, like me, you have managed to get this far into the month and forgotten about Valentine’s Day, then you must a) have been stuck under something heavy b) departed this world in search of planatery life elsewhere c) be married. However, the overwhelming likelihood is that no one has let you forget the fact. And since everyone I meet complains about what a thoroughly unexciting affair it has become, I thought I’d throw my new, rather exciting idea for VD into the ring…
Valentine’s Day is one of two moments in the year when I feel sad about the decline of the Roman Empire. The first happens whenever I am eating something boney: I find myself fighting that licentiously roman urge to casually hurl it over my shoulder (wouldn’t that be quite satisfying? It’s going to end up in the dog one way or the other). The second is on Valentine’s Day, when I can’t help thinking it would have been more fun to be a romping Roman, celebrating the libertine festival of Lupercalis.
It was none other than Plutarch who said (and who has since soared in my estimations) that in the good old days, they took their Valentine’s Day revelling seriously. Noble youths of the town would run through the city naked and laughing (for laughing was a symbol of life, ha ha!) striking young maidens gently with shaggy thongs (fashioned from freshly sacrificed goats) to increase their fertility. As part of the celebrations, the names of available maidens were placed into a box and drawn out by available suitors. Each man accepted the girl whose name he drew out as his love, sometimes just for the duration of the festival, or sometimes longer. Come now, be honest; apart from the bit about sacrificed goats, doesn’t that sound a whole lot more fun?
Sadly, thong-striking isn’t terribly ecumenical (well…not for fun, anyway). Nor is nudity, or the idea that love should be some kind of random lottery, for that matter. I suppose the whole thing was doomed to eventual decline; I mean, nothing that naughty could possibly have stood the test of time. But now that history has had a good go at re-shaping it, I wonder what would a modern-day Plutarch would make of our commercially conspired, saccharin-sweet Valentine’s Day celebrations?
Let’s face it: Valentine’s Day is not for married people. After fifteen years of companionship, an unidentifiable Valentine’s Day card or unexpected bunch of red roses has been known to cause tension between two people who have long since stopped feeling any special something-in-the-air, apart from the rain.
But for unattached people, it’s a different box of frogs altogether. I don’t think anyone really expects true love on Valentine’s Day and a jolly good thing too. A big bravo goes to whoever it was, who managed to convince an educated nation that sending an anonymous card by Royal Mail is a reliable way of winning someone’s affections. I wonder how many futile hours have been squandered agonising over the number of cards received or not received; or worse still, agonising over the anonymity of the card itself. I remember wearing fantasy goggles about a boy called Ed for nearly four months after receiving one completely unidentifiable card, only to find out eventually that it was from my granny after all. The disappointment cut deep. It’s worth straightening one thing out right now: is this a celebration of romantic love or not? If so, then surely cards from parents and siblings do nothing but muddy the water for everyone. I mean, honestly! And they found nudity in the streets shocking….
The point I am getting to is this: since we now live in a largely secular society, oughtn’t single people to indulge in a bit of light-hearted licentiousness for just one night of the year? I say bring back goatskin loinclothes and a giant love lottery box in Trafalgar Square. And whilst I’m at it, dare I suggest laughter? And a bit of nudity for those who won’t mind the February chill. For the thriftier lover, there’s nothing expensive about popping your name in a box and there’s little risk of being saddled with a frog forever either. Like everything else in this age, even the Lupercalian lover has a built-in obscalence: if you don’t like what the love lottery throws at you, just jettison and move on. But if perchance, luck is on your side, you may end up love-struck after all. Or struck by a Shaggy Thong. Or, if you’re lucky, both.
Bring back the Love Lottery….