A confession is coming up that will hardly improve your impression of me or disguise my advancing years. I tell you this for the sake of transparency. Back in the day I was a Bay City Roller fan and my bedroom walls were plastered with Eric Faulkner and Les McKeown posters. I did indeed Shang-Alang with the gang, as it were.
I tell you this not so that you can start rustling around on social media to see if my old school friend can dig out some incriminating evidence of me sporting tartan flares, a Bay City roller scarf and a rank feather-cut hair do, but to explain why occasionally I get an ear worm recalling one of their greatest hits, that No. 1 classic, ‘Give a Little Love’. Come on you fellow Rollermaniacs, you hum it and I’ll sing:
Give a little love, take a little love
Be prepared to forsake a little love…
These words came into my head again when I was out for a run this week (ok, more a slow nod in the direction of an amble really, but I feel I need to reclaim some of your respect after the Bay City Roller revelation). I had been thinking about the added pressure that an impending Valentine’s Day could bring upon people who have suffered recent break ups, or even people like me who are starting out again in a relationship and feeling quite out of practice. Actually, Valentine’s Day is pretty challenging at the best of times, but during a third Lockdown when you have used up all your ammo’ on previous ‘date nights’, or, if you have been locked in with your loved one for months, you have probably had your romantic fill of ‘tables for two’, or simply haven’t the energy to light a candle once you eventually get the kids to bed/know your grown up children will not go to bed and will take the proverbial. I search but can not find any Government advice to Stay Home and Be Romantic.
I think it may be even harder to navigate Valentine’s Day during a Lockdown; we will wait and see. You can go for the, ‘flipping commercial nonsense,’ approach and sprint past the buckets of red roses appearing in supermarkets – thereby running the risk of seeing your partner’s puppy dog eyes deflate as they hide the Valentine’s gift they have already bought for you, or, you can succumb to consumerism (and my goodness the retail sector needs our love right now) and find yourself paying £100 for a postal delivery of the ingredients to make a burger bun for two. I personally think this is a recipe for disaster and bound to lead to arguments over who cooks and who washes up, but then perhaps I am just holding out for a takeaway curry.
When I return from this attempt at exercise, a text from my 94 year old mum reminds me that we need to spread more than just romantic love right now. Mum is the most eloquent writer and I love her emails of wisdom which often arrive in the early hours when she can not sleep. This is perfect timing, because often I can’t sleep either so it feels as it we are having a long distance chat while the rest of the world is sleeping. When texting mum is quite edgy, refusing to punctuate and shouting out in bold, locked caps – she is yet to be introduced to emojis and GIFs so her messages have the feel of a telegram. This particular text reads like a modern day SOS and makes me feel so sad:
A WAITROSE ORDER DISAPPEARED BEFORE MY EYES PEOPLE COMPLAINING THAT I WASNT ANSWERING MY PHONE CANT DO THE DROPS BECAUSE OF MY HEARING AID IN I NEED TO THINK HOW OTHERS WOULD COPE WITH LIFE LONG AILMENTS I HAVE NEVER FELT SO ISOLATED JUST SORRY FOR MYSELF NOT A GOOD CHRISTIAN EXAMPLE START AFRESH NEW BEDSIDE LIGHT NEW JIGSAW WHY GRUMBLE I MUST THINK OF CAPTAIN TOM.
There I have been, vexing over whether Favourite Man (FM) and I can pull off a Valentine Date Night in Lockdown and how my lovely children can get to see their lovely partners. Now Mum is reminding me of the difference between being alone and feeling lonely. She is feeling both. She is missing human touch. I realise how doubly isolated mum must feel when she can’t hear any of us on the phone. She needs us to try a little harder to show our love.
This is the mother who let me waste all my 1975 pocket money on my Shang-Alang obsession and who tirelessly sewed tartan strips and hems into all my jeans so that I could ‘run with the gang’. I don’t remember her laughing at me (which is more than I can say for my siblings – I feel my older sisters were just jealous that there was little fashion merchandise for a David Cassidy or a Donny Osmond fan and they could not demonstrate their teenage allegiances with the same visible vigour).
As a child I used to draw my mother a Valentine’s card. I once drew the whole family side by side on a home-made card and I discovered, years later, that mum had kept my artwork; she told me that she found it amusing that I had drawn us in size order, replete with rosy red knee caps – and in her case – red platform shoes. I realise now how much she loved all of us; she never made a big show of it. She just quietly locked away her memories.
When my children were growing up, I always sent them a Valentine each year because I never wanted them to be the person at school who didn’t get a card. Of course they knew the Valentine came from me, but at least they could always say they had received something – without lying. I seem to recall that they always received other cards as well, but at least I knew that I had offered a clumsy security blanket and that was my way of playing Cupid – for I was always the gawky child in class who dreaded the Valentine boasts of the ‘in crowd. I didn’t want my children to ‘suffer’ in the same way.
My own romantic track record at school was not promising. My first romance was with a young lad called Neil who wrapped up a bar of Cold Tar soap for me one Valentine Day – at the time it didn’t seem a very romantic gesture yet now I can see that for a 12 year old this was quite a bold move. (Or, the poor man had lost a class bet and was ‘chosen’ to gift an unsubtle hint about my teenage body odour). Subsequent school years were marked by the allegiance of an unusually tall peer who literally stalked me during lunch and break times and stood out in a crowd on account of his refusal to enter a classroom without his black executive briefcase (we were 14 years old, so a plastic bag from Top Shop would have helped him blend in more with the class) and because of his cat phobia which caused him to upturn desks without warning, although there were no cats at school. Years later, when I returned from university, mum told me that this chap sometimes turned up at our house late at night asking to see me, but that she had always managed to shield me from these visits, not wanting to alarm me.
Bye Bye Baby indeed.
There is a saying that a mother can only be as happy as her unhappiest child and I realise now how many times I must have stretched my mum’s heart strings on account of my poor choice of romantic partner. She has always stuck with me though, metaphorically patching me up with tartan and not ever laughing at the image I was projecting. I guess she was just relieved that I was never into Death Metal. I hope I am as strong for my two lovelies.
So as we head into Valentine’s Day 2021, I write this blog as a love letter to anyone in need of some love. No-one is too old to be told how loved they are; do not assume that they already know this. We may not need Valentine’s Day to tell people we love them, but if it is a useful reminder, then let the day stand – and let it spill over into the rest of the year in the same way that people are still keeping up their Christmas decorations. Let us not just restrict the day for romantic declarations. And for those who are feeling unloved, a bit of self love also goes a long way until we can be with our loved ones again – not in a narcissistic way, but in order to be our own best friend. We can be alone and not feel lonely. There is nothing wrong with giving yourself a little hug. It may even fool your heart.
Don’t wait for someone else to remind you that you are lovely. Treat yourself to 12 red roses if you feel like it, or walk past those florist buckets if you don’t. This year more than any year we all deserve to give and take some love. Just remember:
And when the sun comes shining through
We’ll all know what to do