Lori Anderson: Valentine’s missive from the heart

Picture: Contributed
Picture: Contributed
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Clichés abound today, but seize the chance to declare love anyway, writes Lori Anderson

PWING! Has Cupid launched an arrow into your heart today, throwing you back into a vermilion cordate-shaped world? Is there a cocoa-dusted heart floating on top of your frothy cappuccino? Have your eggs been poached in a heart-shaped mould, all the better for slipping onto your heart-shaped toast – and is that a card nestled between the toast rack and the jug of milk? If so, you are either swept up by the first hug of Eros or an eight-year-old, swaddled in a mother’s love.

Hearts first started throbbing on this day back in Ancient Rome during the pastoral and fertility festival of Lupercalia – and, as with all of the best festivals, the Christian Church adopted it, watered it down and renamed it. Valentine was probably a third century Roman priest who disobeyed Emperor Claudius II’s order that marriage should be banned among soldiers and carried out the ceremony for them in secret.

Today, Valentine’s Day belongs not only to lovers but also to two other distinct groups of people. Scientists have recently linked (probably) one’s category to being analogous with the first adolescent album purchase: Group A, who pilfered a fiver from their mother’s purse for Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols, and Group B, who dutifully saved up their birthday record tokens for the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack.

The former cast a disparaging eye on most things in life, regularly crying “sell out”, “convention” and “rip-off” and enjoy nothing more than treating Valentine’s Day like a Mexican piñata. The latter embrace the commercial present and love nothing more than cupping a Prestat heart-shaped chocolate box, a bouquet of balloons tethered by a red satin ribbon and a dozen long-stemmed red roses.

So are we bound by convention or by love on this day of hearts and flowers? A survey published this week said 65 per cent of people in Britain had no plans to be more affectionate to their husband, wife, partner, mistress, significant other or inflatable Japanese doll today than on any other day. And while people from Yorkshire were found to be least likely to make an effort, Scots had the biggest problem with public displays of affection, with 56 per cent disliking them, and a shocking 20 per cent saying they have never expressed any kind of affection – such as kissing, holding hands or hugging – in public.

Is it time the average Scotsman rediscovered his Celtic heritage? For what would Aengus Og make of the timidity of the current generation? Cupid’s Celtic cousin, Aengus Og was the god of love; the love child of Dagda from his seduction of Boann, the wife of Nechtan. To conceal the conception, Dagda commanded the sun to stop in the sky for nine months so that Aengus could be gestated and born in a single day.

In the legends, Aengus grew up to be a man of considerable beauty who fell in love with a maiden he first glimpsed in a dream. Scouring the whole of Ireland to find her, Aengus’s quest came to an end by a lake where 150 girls were chained up and turned into swans every second Samhain. Our hero was told that if he could recognise his maiden in her feathery form he was free to marry her. When he successfully picked her out, he turned himself into a swan and together they flew off.

As they circled overhead they sang a song so captivating that it lulled everyone who heard into a three-day slumber. Four birds were said to fly around Aengus to represent his kisses and it is said that when lovers today write “XXXX” at the end of a billet doux it is in tribute to him.

If alive today, would Aengus shrug his shoulders or opt for a posy of wilting blooms from a service station forecourt? I think not. Yet according to scientists, love is all in the mind, with even Aengus and his fair maiden’s attraction most likely to have emanated from a part of the brain known as the caudate tail, from which emotional responses to visual beauty spring forth.

New research reported in the journal Neuroscience Letters used magnetic resonance imaging to scan the brains of volunteers and discovered that they could predict the likelihood of love lasting by how much different parts of the brain lit up. A heart-shaped satin card may be a cliché, especially if you are long married, but I’m sure it still has the ability to make the caudate tails wag a little.

Perhaps the only Valentine’s Day card worth receiving is the anonymous one – after all, is mystery not part of the fine art of seduction and romance?

I sent only one Valentine card at primary school. The recipient discovered the card in his desk and came over all at once with a chalky pallor. Watching his physiological reaction was like viewing speeded-up footage of a person in the terminal stages of the Ebola virus.

He had to be removed from school due to the Valentine, which was the talk of the playground – so much so that the smart set decided to take the card out of the teacher’s drawer and compare the writing against the scrawls within the pile of school jotters. Lumbered with a name like Anderson it was mere moments before my secret was revealed and my excoriating embarrassment made public. Mr Kilday, if you are still out there, thanks for nothing.

Despite this unfortunate introduction to the world of romance, I still have a soft spot in my heart for Valentine’s Day. While it may be commercial and scheduled, the opposite of the love’s more traditional handmaiden, spontaneity, it is really only as limited as one’s imagination.

The day is still young; seize the moment, steal that kiss, wrap your lover in verse. And should you be so fortunate as to receive an anonymous card, embrace it with the grace in which it was sent. Love sick should be a positive condition.