What Was Valentine’s Day All About?

First of all, a shedload of money. According to one estimate, the UK spends around £1bn a year on gifts and going out on Valentine’s Day.

FreeImages.com/Linnell Esler

You could be forgiven for thinking that St Valentine is the patron saint of the gullible.  But here are a few other things this day is for.

1 A chance to show someone you’re interested, without giving too much away. Sending a valentine is like saying you love someone then putting a smiley at the end to show you didn’t really mean it 😉

But choose your message wisely, especially if you think size matters. This is what it said on the back of one such card.

Valentine card warning

2 A time for charities to remind you that few things are as loveable as a ball of fluff or a cold wet nose. And that there are other ways to spend your money than on long-stemmed red roses and other such fripperies.

Here’s a cute little video from the Mayhew Animal Home, which regular readers of this blog will have seen mentioned before.

3 A dance in the village hall plastered with red hearts, like the one I went to last night. Not just a disco, but also live music, a quiz, and endless helpings of chili con carne, all bound to warm the cockles of your heart on a cold winter’s night. The scene is replicated in village halls all over the land, where raffles and dad dancing take place. Whether it’s to raise funds for upkeep of the rec, or to support some local club, it’s the community getting together in a good cause.

comberton

Perhaps that should be the true meaning of Valentine’s Day.

Invitation

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Can I Please Be a Man for a Change?

“Cazza,” a friend asked me in all seriousness. “Would you like to be a man?”

Of course not. It was a ridiculous idea. I’ve had plenty of time to get used to being a woman, and I enjoy it. A lot.

Why would I want to be a bloke, with all the disadvantages like obtrusive pipework, higher car insurance, and the chore of daily face-scraping? A no-brainer.

But fast forward a few weeks, and I’ve seen The Danish Girl, I’ve done some thinking about gender, and I may have changed my mind. While I wouldn’t resort to surgery, it might be nice to have a magic wand and painlessly turn into a fella, just for a bit.  FreeImages.com/Cecile Graat

Here are just some of the things you can do when you’re a man, even in 2016:

1 You get acres of space on a tube train just by spreading your legs apart.

2 There’s no need to queue up for a pee. 

3 You can take part in conversations about asbestos removal, carburettors, or the offside rule without someone saying it’s a bit technical for you. 

FreeImages.com/bugdog

4 Interrupting isn’t rude. It’s decisive. And you’re never bossy. It’s called ‘being a leader’.  

5 You can rearrange your scrotum at leisure under the guise of thinking.

6 A fart machine can keep you entertained for hours. 

fart machine

7 There are no periods or hot flushes, and you can pile on weight without people asking when it’s due.

FreeImages.com/Mathias Gelinski

8 You can irritate the crap out of someone, then say, “You’re so gorgeous when you’re angry.”

9 If you clean the house or look after the children, your other half is deemed to be very lucky, and you’re hailed as a saint. 

FreeImages.com/Martin Abegglen

10 You’re a good sport, even when women make fun of you.  

How Romantic Can August Bank Holiday Get?

The August Bank Holiday weekend is at its best when (a) it doesn’t rain and (b) you get propositioned. Three years ago, I spent a sunny day at the seaside with an old friend I hadn’t seen in a while. We were outside the Red Lion Hotel in Cromer when I rashly asked what he’d like to do next.

Red lion by Matthew Strickland

“If I tell you, you’ll slap me,” came his response.

Reader, I married him. And this Bank Holiday weekend we returned to East Anglia and the sand and the sea to revisit that day.

It was very romantic and very English.  Now I will share some of the very Englishness of the Bank Holiday with you, starting with Cromer pier

Cromier Pier, Norfolk

What’s a pier without a proper end-of-the-pier show?

Cromer end of the pier show

It starts at 4pm on Saturdays, instead of the traditional time of 2.30pm, according to two disgruntled pier show veterans who told me over their limp sandwiches how the change in schedule had spoilt their day.

Fish and chips are staple fare. Belly not bursting yet? The No 1 fish and chip shop also sells ice cream.  

No 1 Fish and Chips, Cromer

Windbreaks are de rigueur. Somewhere not far away, there’s usually a man with a knotted hankie protecting his bald pate. 

windbreak

Very few UK towns or villages have no war memorial.  This one’s in Burnham Market.

War Memorial, Burnham Market, Norfolk

A select few sport decorative village signs. There are more of these in Norfolk than in any other county, but Suffolk comes a close second.

Freckenham, Suffolk

Some have pink-washed houses (the colour’s less pretty when you realise it’s from pig’s blood). 

pink washed house, Swaffham Prior

And pubs complete with ornamental signs and wonky walls. 

Red Lion pub, Swaffham Prior

We caught a traction engine idling outside this one. 

The White Swan, Stow cum Quy

Sunset in late August comes all too soon, so it was time for one last bit of Englishness.  

chicken tikka masala, Saffron Brasserie, Cambridge

I know. Chicken tikka masala was probably invented in Glasgow. It may no longer be the UK’s favourite dish, but it’s the perfect end to a nostalgic day. 

***

PS You might enjoy more quintessential Britishness on the Romaniacs blog.

Easy tweet: How English can a Bank Holiday get? http://wp.me/p3uiuG-13S a romantic look back with @DrCarolCooper 

What’s Sauce for the Goose is Sauce for the Gander

I’m all in favour of egalitarian relationships, as I’m sure you are. Last week I blogged about how to annoy the hell out of your husband, so this week it’s only fair to cover the ways in which your other half can drive you round the bend.

If you dished it out, you’ve got to take it – right? So woman up and let your husband (partner, boyfriend, lover, whoever) do his worst. Here are some of his methods.

leaving the loo seat up

1 Battles in the bathroom. And no, leaving the toilet seat up doesn’t count. It’s just too predictable. Blokes can do far more infuriating things in bathrooms. Like locking the door and singing along to the radio at full volume, so he doesn’t hear you bashing with all your might, pleading to be let in before your bladder bursts.

Like leaving the bath-tap in the ‘shower’ position, so you get an impromptu soaking when you next try to run a bath.

Like using up the last of your megabucks-a-bottle sodium-free shampoo on his own barnet – and later refilling the bottle with the ordinary stuff. The kind that works like paint-stripper on your expensively Brazilian-straightened hair. 

sodium chloride free shampoo

2 Reveal that he’s much younger than you. There’s no going back with this one, because it’s the kind of thing people remember. Then, even if he’s barely a year or so younger, he’s forever known as your toy boy. For added impact, he may even tell people you’re older when it isn’t true.

3 Playing dumb. Poor lamb, he does get confused between your hairbrush and the cat’s.

brushes

As you can see, they look nothing like each other. Not to begin with, anyway.

He may also fail to distinguish between coasters and your favourite books. This one’s really challenging, since both are vaguely rectangular and can be found on tables.

coasters

coasters

not coasters

not coasters

Then he makes it tough to get angry because he wears an innocent face that plainly says, “I’m only a man. What do I know?”

4 Cooking fabulous meals. Which means using every single pan in the house, and leaving it in the sink. “I’ll do it later.” Course he will. Three days later.

5 Doing the laundry. This includes washing your cashmere socks in the machine. In case this hasn’t happened to you yet, I’ll tell you that this shrinks them to the size of baby socks and makes them as soft as a kitchen scourer.  There’s no option but to buy another pair. Which your other half will also put in the washing machine. “Just being helpful, darling.”

6 Being a duvet bandit. Like marriage, it all starts off equal, but come morning you’re hypothermic and sleep-deprived. Your side of the bed ends up like this.  

your side of the bed

I tried to photograph the other side, but I tripped over in two acres of duvet and sprained my ankle before I got a decent shot.

7 The final one, the ne plus ultra, without which no programme of annoyance would be complete, and frankly you may as well stick a couple of fingers down your throat.

He does this: totally amazes all your friends. Maybe he cooks them all a fabulous dinner (AND clears up afterwards). Then he sings YOUR praises to the skies, declaring that you’re prettier than Claudia Schiffer, smarter than Stephen Hawking, and funnier than Omid Djalili.

It’s totally sick-making, of course. But it reminds you that, despite the fact that he’s driven you round the twist, he’s a keeper. 

goose

How to Mend a Broken Heart

This week I’m delighted to feature a guest post from psychotherapist and author Christine Webber.  If you have angina, talk to your doctor, but if your heart’s broken, you need Christine’s wisdom.

Chris WebberIs there a worse pain in the world than heart-break? I don’t think so.

It can happen if you’re made redundant. Or if a parent or partner dies. But most of us associate it with being dumped. And that is one of life’s truly devastating losses.

You lose your partner. Your investment in the past and future. Your certainty about who you spend Sundays with. And – most distressing of all – you can feel that you’ve lost your judgement too.

As one heartbroken client of mine said: ‘I picked him. Then I put up with all sorts of awful things when we were together – but soldiered on because of our children. Now I wonder what on earth I was thinking when I got together with him in the first place.’

So what can you do to get over your broken heart?

First of all, don’t make things worse than they already are by assuming that life is going to be hateful for ever.

Often, when people are heart-broken they say: ‘I feel rejected, and miserable and low …’ This is entirely logical, and understandable.

But then they compound their distress by saying something illogical like: ‘And no one else will ever love me again, and life will be total hell from now on.’

However, without a crystal ball, they can’t possibly know  that!

broken heart

So, no matter how hurt you are, try to confine your focus to what’s happening now, rather than making painful assumptions about your future.

Secondly, accept that the relationship is totally over. It’s agony acknowledging that your partner has really gone for good – but it’s easier in the long run than living in hope that he or she will have a change of heart.

Another thing you need to accept is that you may never understand why you’ve been dumped. Often people insist that they can’t move on till they know for sure what went wrong. This is a waste of time and energy. Vast numbers of individuals never feel satisfied with the reasons their ex gives them for wanting out. So the sooner you give up on getting a plausible explanation the better.

Next – no matter what the temptation – don’t try to be pals with your former partner. He or she may try to persuade you to stay friends, in an attempt to lessen their own guilt. But this is unlikely to benefit you. You’ve got friends. You wanted your partner to fulfil a totally different role. In time, perhaps you will be able to restore some sort of friendship – especially if you share children – but not now.

Above all, NEVER HAVE SEX WITH YOUR EX. Afterwards, you’ll feel more lonely and wretched than ever.

Of course your ex-partner may hint that he or she has made a terrible mistake. If that happens, you should talk together, have dinner, talk some more …  But don’t let this person join you in bed unless the relationship is fully back on track.

Finally, write a list of things about your ex that you don’t miss. This is very therapeutic. Carry it with you at all times and add to it every time you think of another negative aspect of this person who has hurt you so much.

One day, like the characters in One Night at the Jacaranda, you’ll realise that you’re ready to start dating again, and that you’ve got a whole lot of living to do yet. I can’t promise you when that will be, but it will happen.

Christine Webber is a psychotherapist who specialises in sex and relationship problems, and the author of How To Mend A Broken Heart.

Something Special for the Bedroom

Everyone knows you need a sexy bedroom.  So Laure is off to the sales.  There are acres of bedlinens on offer, she realises as soon as she hits John Lewis, but which is going to have the right effect?

Laure is one of the characters from my new novel One Night at the Jacaranda.  She doesn’t normally have trouble making up her mind, but this purchase, she senses, could be crucial.

Back in her student days, it never mattered what the bedroom looked like.  While she’d hankered after a nice set from BHS, her mother packed her off to uni with some hand-me-downs embellished with touches of Tesco Value.  So in her first term Laure’s bed had looked like this:

Did her mother think teh ensemble would work as a chastity belt?

Did her mother think the ensemble would work as a chastity belt?

One orange bedspread. God knows which part of the attic it had been in.

Navy print sheets that were fitted but didn’t quite fit (‘But they’re very nice,’ said her mother. ‘They’re Laura Ashley, darling.’)

A couple of flowery pink pillow-cases because the rest of the navy ones couldn’t be found anywhere.

One weird turquoise duvet cover that should have gone crying and screaming all the way back to the 1970s.

The effect was so loud Laure couldn’t sleep.   Good job that wasn’t what she’d gone to uni for.

So she’d had turned the lights low and painted the walls dark.  Even lighting reminiscent of Luton bus depot couldn’t dampen youthful enthusiasm.  In those days, a pretty undergrad needed romantic lighting and designer bedlinen as much as she needed expensive perfume, which was not at all.  Laure could have dabbed cat’s piss behind her ears and still pulled.

These days it was another story.  She could afford anything but couldn’t get it right.   The past few years had seen a succession of different sheets and covers.  There’s been more variety in her bedlinen than in her men.

Today there was a lovely pinky-purple set on display.  Too girly, maybe?

pink bed

The patriotic look probably appealed to lots of men.  She wasn’t sure it was for her.  Too masculine.  With possible political overtones.

Union Jack bedding

She moved on.  There was always the innocent girl-next-door look like this one, the snag being that she didn’t fancy her neighbour.

the girl next door look

Perhaps she should she go for all-white bedding?

white bedding in a grey room

She walked around the display, twice. Sat on the edge. Languidly removed a shoe, then put it back on again when a couple stopped to stare at her.

The coordinated threads did look rather splendid, with a calm sophisticated presence that would reflect her good taste. Yes, that was the one.  Delighted with her choice, she filled the shopping basket: sheets, duvet cover, pillow cases, a throw and handful of small cushions.

Only when she exited with her bags into the cold air of Oxford Street and the hordes of other shoppers did she wonder:  what if the tea got spilled?