The naffest festival of the year will soon be here. Shop shelves are groaning under the weight of cupid-shaped chocolates, flammable sets of nylon underwear and bunches of identical roses. It’s easy to get Valentine’s Day wrong. A giant teddy bear is a little too ‘Operation Yewtree’. A set of red fluffy handcuffs has a whiff of the Donald Trumps.
But the days between Christmas and Easter can be bleak, and truth be told, most women would be disappointed if Valentine’s Day passed them by completely. A card signed with a ‘?’ is still a lovely thing to receive. Papier and Liberty do the best ones. Picking a present for someone is the hard part. So here are five ways to say ‘I love you’ while preserving your integrity.
Under no circumstances should flowers be sent to an office on Valentine’s Day. The poor recipient will spend the entire day worrying that people think she has sent them to herself. However, a beautiful bunch of flowers waiting at home will always go down well. There are some very good florists around these days. Petalon send flowers by bike. Floom lets you order flowers – such as the above – from independent florists. Freddie’s Flowers deliver charming boxes of English stems. Love should be wild and wonderful. Pick a bunch that suggests that, and avoid anything with a red colour scheme.
If flowers aren’t right, choose something edible. If you fancy combining the two, Bompas & Parr’s ‘meat bouquets’ kill two birds with one stone. Or three, given that each one includes a hung grouse, pheasant and quail. If that’s too visceral, send your Valentine either a box of Ottolenghi’s rose-petal meringues, rose and violet creams from Fortnum & Mason or Godminster’s heart-shaped cheddar. Hearts do not need to be avoided per se, just strictly rationed.
For something more enduring, a picture would be a lovely present. A botanical print is a stylish way to give someone flowers if you can’t trust yourself to pick a bouquet. Print Club London has lots of limited-edition screen prints, like Rose Electra Harris’s Vase in my Bedroom (above). Steer clear of anything that says ‘I love you’ on it, and do not buy a piece of ‘personalised’ art from somewhere like notonthehighstreet.com. Printing someone’s name onto a picture does not somehow imbue it with more emotion.
Expressing love in an original way can be hard work. Many great writers have done it far better than you will ever be able to, so why not let them do the job for you. In Praise of Older Women by Stephen Vizinczey is risky but amusing, should your lover be older with a cracking sense of humour. American Psycho would show your passionate yet waggish side. The Swimming Pool Library by Alan Hollinghurst would work if you met your beloved on Hampstead Heath. Avoid anything too obvious – this is not the day for Jane Austen – and remember to write a note in the front. If you want to seem serious, send a book of traditional French or English verse. Do not pick up anything called ’50 love poems for the one I love’ or other similar sounding titles.
There’s nothing wrong with occasionally opting for a bit of kitsch, but only when done sparingly. If you are the sort of person who would never dream of sending someone a giant helium balloon in the shape of a heart/unicorn/flamingo, then what could be more surprising – and heartfelt – than sending one. Pop do excellent ones, which arrive in a big brown box. Valentine’s Day is a trap set for men. A little unexpected levity can help see you through it.