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Valentinophobia: The fear of falling short on the 14th of February

For an event that is all about ‘love’, it is extraordinary that the words ‘Valentine’s Day’ should create so little enthusiasm in the hearts of so many. In a large number of cases, in fact, the fourteenth of February doesn’t celebrate love, it strikes terror.

What am I going to do to show my ‘significant other’ how much I love him or her? Breakfast in bed? Flowers? Lingerie? If so, how lewd should it be? A card? Signed or unsigned? What if mine is not the only card that he or she receives? Should I send two, just to test the reaction? And just plain old Ferrero Rocher? Or heart-shaped Beacon chocolates? Oh dear. The stress.

And should the card be humorous, or more traditional, with blobby little fresh-faced cherubs flying around firing tiny arrows into aortas and ventricles?

Few are more wary of The Feast of St Valentine, though, than restaurateurs and hoteliers, on whom the pressure falls to make the day ‘extra special’, not just for one guest celebrating a birthday, or for one couple on honeymoon or marking an anniversary, but for every person in the restaurant or hotel. All at the same time. Private romantic moments in a thronging public place. Tricky.

So it is red roses all around, on the tables. One presented to each lady. But then what about the men? Some men love flowers, but how do you know? Give a flower to the wrong bloke and he might thump you.

It is mushy music. But what? Love is in the Air (too corny) or The Greatest Love of All (too loud) or Air on a G-String (too much double-entendre)? Anything by Michael Bublé will have the ladies swooning, but then the men might feel a little nauseous.

So we draw little cream hearts in the soup, but what if it spreads and looks more like a tadpole? And worse still, when we try to cut cherry tomatoes into heart shapes, why do they always end up looking like little bottoms?

Then there is that horrific hotel room concept of the romantic turn-down. Petals, poetry and scented candles, all of which have to be cleared up the next morning.

So while you are worrying about what you are going to do with your partner for Valentine’s Day, spare a thought for the hospitality people, who have to come up with the right vibe for everyone, aged from 17 to 97, all out on a date and almost all, at best, a little nervous and beset with over-inflated expectations.

After all, who was this Saint with all this hype attached to him? Evidently the original Saint Valentine of Rome was a priest who performed hundreds of marriages in his lifetime, many of them secretly, for persecuted Christians and for Roman legionnaires who were forbidden from marrying.

And what are we left with now? Relics of Valentine himself, scattered across the world as seems to be the way with saints – a few bones in Rome, a few more in Dublin – and one day of the year which results, in the UK alone, in the exchanging of more than 25 million cards and the spending of £1.3 billion on flowers and chocolates. In the US, 190 million cards are sent and the average spend per person is over $150. It’s quite astonishing really.

In South Africa, with our disastrous postal system, 25 million cards are probably sent but none of them will arrive before Christmas. “Darling, I sent you a card, I promise! It will be in the Randfontein sorting office.” Ugly scenes might ensue.

And don’t forget the 1929 Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre. What was that again? The husband who bought Ferrero Rocher, when he should have known that his wife didn’t like hazelnuts …


Chris Harvie - in real life - is a Lowveld hotelier of thirty years' standing. Having cut his tourism teeth in some of South Africa's finest hotels, he founded Rissington Inn in Hazyview, in 1995. In the parallel universe, however, he is a renowned author, inveterate traveller and freelance travel writer with an insider's view of the industry he loves. Often amusing, occasionally caustic and always entertaining, Chris can be relied upon to dig up an unusual tale and to spin it with consummate skill.