Ahh February the month of l’amour, with Valentine’s Day in a restaurant the highlight. My dear wife and I have celebrated many a happy Valentine’s Day together since that day that our eyes first met and locked in the air raid shelter. I was resplendent in my Home Guard uniform (despite begging to be allowed to fight the foe I was turned down by the Army on account of flat feet) and she wore the thrilling uniform of an auxiliary nurse. As we cowered from the bombs it was not just the percussion of a near miss by a thousand pounder that threw us together, it was also fate.
And yet it could all have been so different. At my school I developed what was then called a ‘Grecian’ passion for the Captain of Rugby. So handsome, so strong, so manly. Of course back then one could be in serious trouble for ‘jumping too low in the leapfrog’. If your father lacked influence you were given thirty minutes to pack your tuck box before being driven to the station in the shooting brake. So my love was one that dared not speak its name. I think he knew, though. ‘Hey you, you Hunt!’ he would shout. ‘Come and clean my rugger boots,’ he would add, knowing that I was happy to get on my knees before him. Such menial tasks were called ‘fagging’ back then, the modern meaning had not yet made itself manifest. Ah such innocent days. He never survived the war, alas, being shot by his own men under suspicious circumstances. The body was never recovered. My own proclivities became submerged and although malicious critics often claim there is a touch of lavender in my marriage, it is mere tittle-tattle.
Of course Valentine’s Day is often a minefield for love. All too easy to take a false step and find oneself being blown up. Many men think that the perfect time to pop the question is in a restaurant on Valentine’s Day, but sadly I think it is not. Restaurants on this day are busy, busy places. The waiters are looking forward to good tips, yet at the same time are harassed by the unusual number of patrons. Drop down on one knee in the aisle and you are likely to find a waiter going base over apex over your head as he rushes distractedly about. Regaining your feet to find yourself covered in fettuccine and your waiter stuck under a neighbouring table tends to put a damper on things I find.
And should the meal be not very good, it casts a pall over the whole evening. ‘Why don’t you complain?’ your lady friend will insist in shriller and shriller tones. Your reply that English gentlemen do not complain on the spot but prefer to go home and write a nasty anonymous letter to the restaurant, will not go down well. The word ‘wimp’ may well be advanced.
There is also another hazard – amorous waiters determined to steal your woman. In Italian restaurants they will sidle up behind her and show off an enormous pepper mill whose symbolism is obvious. With gruesome thrusts of his shiny, tightly trousered groin the Latin lothario will shower pepper onto her food as if it were fecund pollen, whilst making eye contact with you and sneering at your lack of manliness. She may well simper and play up to this offensive behaviour and if you are not careful she will be found at some point pressed up against a dustbin behind the kitchen. How do I know ? I have, as they say, ‘been there’ alas.
So do enjoy your Valentine’s Day but remember, pick your restaurant wisely.