So who was this Valentine fella then ? Some great lover from a bygone age ? Some rascally rapscallion who set petticoats a-twiching back when petticoats rarely allowed a flash of bare ankle ?
Nope. His true full name was Hallmark Valentine-Day and he wasn't born of woman at all. (Gasps all round) No one can be sure just when this 'birth' took place, as it was never documented, but historians are agreed it was sometime in the middle of the 18th century, near the end of what we now call the 'not very romantic at all' period.
The slightly Rambling Chipping Norton Dictionary (as opposed to the Concise Oxford one) states that on a sunny Wednesday afternoon in May 1747, Charles Bendicoot Valentine came home from a hard day toiling in the fields, unhitched the plough from his pair of shire horses and moaned yet again to his long suffering wife that it was time for some sodding genius to invent the tractor as his back was giving him gyp.
Mrs Valentine had had a bad day herself as the steam powered mangle had broken down again and a travelling bard had kept her so distracted with his nimble fingered lute playing that she'd burned the gruel.
They ate supper in silence and headed off to bed at 7pm as it was dark and there were only reruns on that night. "There must be more to life than this" said Charles to no one in particular.
"I'd say you've got it pretty cushy" said no one in particular back at him. "Here, who you talking to" said Mrs Valentine, sneeking a peek under the duvet. "Oh just talking to no one in particular" came the reply. "Well", sniffed his wife, "stop that nonsense and talk to me. I slave away all day in this hovel and what thanks do I get ? None. You take me for granted, you do. I deserve a little thank you.......something special.......something romantic. You never do anything romantic."
Charles thought about this all night and the next day, before he went into the fields, he went to see his very good friend, Arbuthnot Day, who lived on the next farm. "My wife doesn't understand me" he moaned to his pal. "Told you she'd be trouble" came the reply. "You should never have married her." Charles told Arbuthnot all about the conversation in bed the previous night and the pair of them decided that his wife would soon find out just how romantic Charles could really be.
So later that day, as Daphne Valentine was thrashing the weekly washing against a large stone, a messenger arrived with a parchment-o-gram for her. Sitting at the kitchen table, she broke the seal, unrolled the paper and with mounting horror, read the message within.
I've had enough. Stop. I can't take life with you anymore. Stop. You wanted me to be more romantic and so I have. Stop. I'm leaving you and have run off with my lover, Arbuthnot, and we're going to live together and as for sex, well no one is going to tell us we have to. Stop. Sorry, that period shouldn't have been there as I meant that no one can tell us we have to stop. Stop. That stop was in the right place. Stop.
The farming lovers were the talk of the county for many months. In February 1748, news swept through the rural community that a baby boy had been born to them and this caused some consternation and much debate at the local inn. "A boy you say. They conceived a boy"? said Rev Harold Wishbone, the vicar of the parish. "That's a trifle unnatural, isn't it "? asked Bert Nosebleed, idiot of the village. "Maybe so" said Agnes Worrywart "but I think it's very romantic and someone should send them a box of dark Belgian chocolates and a dozen red roses". "What's a Belgian" asked Bert before he was thrown out of the inn and barred for life.
Sitting alone in the corner was one Daphne Gaybasher (nee Valentine) who was listening attentively to every word. A sly smile broke up her normally fixed and miserable face.
Later that day, the 14th, chocs and flowers arrived at the lovers farmhouse as they sat around the crackling fireplace taking turns holding their son. "Look little Hallmark" said Charles to the infant, "someone has sent us chocs and flowers" "Who sent them" asked Arbuthnot. "No idea. The parchment is unsigned and just says Roses Are Red, Voilets Are Blue, Hallmark's a B* And So Are You Two". "That's all "? asked Arbuthnot, not the sharpest knife in the drawer. "I don't get it. It's a puzzle for sure."
Every year, on the same date, the chocs, the flowers and the same message arrived at the farm and they never did know who had sent them. As the decades passed, Daphne's bitter words got lost in the retelling and the idea of flowers, chocs and lovers passed into folklore. No one ever knew what became of the farmers or their mystery son, Hallmark Valentine-Day, but early in the 20th century, a man by the same name bought out several small greeting card companies and started on a run of success and profitabily rarely seen in those days. Then came the depression and no one had time for greeting cards. In an effort to rebuild his empire, he recalled the story of his ancestors and decided to invent a day for lovers. Everyone could identify with that. The idea spread and after a few years it had taken on a life of it's own and the world congratulated him for thinking it up.
"God bless Hallmark Valentine-Day" they said as they tried to resurrect doomed marriages and heal crumbling engagements. "God bless Valentine-Day indeed" said the inhabitants of Belgium who saw their GNP increase fourfold on that one day of the year.
So there it is. The real story behind the 14th of February. Romance be damned; it's all a commercial plot to increase the profitability of card companies, florists and.......Belgium.
We have a saying in Yorkshire "There's Nowt So Queer As Folk"
A smirking Hallmark would agree.