The young man is in a suit, his hair shiny-smooth, with an arrow-straight parting. In his hands, a bunch of red roses. The girl turning towards him wears a bouffant skirt, a headband and a radiant smile. Inside the card – my very first – a forgotten message signed with a question mark. It is nearly 1960.

I never knew who sent it. Boys were Martians to me then. Unless it was my best friend’s beautiful brother, who was kind and blind to my spots. Later – a local tragedy – he became a priest.

The card was kept in a pretty box until it disappeared. To other pieces of paper, I hold on tight. A note in French from my first true love, met and lost in Paris. An eternal flame. My father’s war-time letters, the closest I’ll ever get to him.

The guess-who greeting sent to my schoolgirl self would look strange on the shelves in the shops this month. Row upon row of cards, loudly competing for attention. The usual hearts and flowers and teddies bearing balloons. The odd cupid. Lots of birds in raptures on branches, most of them with eyes like saucers. It has to be the year of the owl. They’re everywhere. Then, next to an embroidered cushion (Love is All You Need), I see a quiet, unsoppy one. Inside, it says ‘you’re simply the best.’   I know!  Spread the love!  but the only significant other in my life who deserves a Valentine is my plumber, whose wife wouldn’t like it.

Yesterday. No red envelopes in the letter box, no miraculous message with a foreign stamp. I do get the result of my bowel screening test. Plus a leaflet from a new Italian restaurant in the town. This place is ‘passionate about pizza’, which can’t be normal.

So, feeling very February, log onto my dating site. It’s been a while; the team have ‘missed me.’ Joining it has led to a few ‘fans’ and brief ‘conversations’ but no actual dates. My picture is recent, my age the truth – probably an instant turn-off. In any case, many of the ‘profiles’ and photos on the site are frankly frightening: men in dark glasses with GSOH, who describe themselves as ‘lonely’ or ‘fun-seeking’…

Delete two ‘matches’ at once. One with a large hat and long beard (what lies beneath?)  and an ‘ageing rocker’ in search of a ‘rock chick’. I’m about to log out when a new message pops up. An invitation to lunch! This is a pleasant surprise – and an outing for the orange silk shirt -until I realise it’s from a ‘tactile’ teacher of peace and gender studies from Bangor, who can’t spell.

There is only one known antidote to all this: a large glass of pink and an early night with Jane Austen.


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