One thing that you should never do on Valentine’s Day is to go out for dinner as a couple, and this is particularly true if the dinner in question is in Paris. The Heid and I learnt this lesson quite early on in our relationship, as students, when, on a deeply misguided £99 Eurostar-hotel-and-Valentine’s-dinner-all-inclusive-round-trip to the Cité d’Amour, we discovered all about the perils of organised romance.
It all started on the Eurostar, when, happily ensconced in a game of Travel Scrabble, we were disturbed by the loud pop of a champagne cork followed by some ostentatious smooching noises and giggles from the seat behind us. We looked round and realised that, far from being the only couple on board, we were one of about fifty – and most were brandishing flowers. I sneered, The Heid shrugged and we got back to our Scrabble, but it was clear that some sort of competition had begun – and that we weren’t going to win it with a triple word score.
On arrival in Paris, a grimy hotel room greeted us, enlivened only by a pitiful carnation and a tragic bottle of cheap champagne, which – by now rather nervous about the très romantique evening that lay ahead – we gulped quickly before making our way down to dinner. The big Valentine’s Dinner started at 7pm prompt (there was a fresh batch of couples booked in for 9pm) in a tiny room, with about eight tables – each laid up for two – positioned in terrifying proximity to one another. We were shown our table, given a complimentary glass of champagne and asked by a suitably sneering Parisian waiter whether we would like wine with our set menu. The Heid hastily ordered a bottle of white for the first course and lined up a bottle of red to see us through the second. As the other couples – mainly Brits and presumably on the same deal as us – filed in to take their seats and a romance-a-thon of excruciating self-consciousness began – we realised what a very good idea this had been.
But it was only later, as I puked (perhaps that fourth bottle wasn’t such a good idea) and The Heid stroked my hair, that I realised an important thing: romance cannot be manufactured or tidied into neat little meals-for-two. Quite simply, one cannot share ‘a special moment’ – in itself a fairly revolting package-sounding concept – if there are pairs of gooey-eyed punters doing the same thing either side of you. It’s cringy and fake and off-putting and I feel sure that St Valentine wouldn’t approve, hence why we’ve never been out to dinner on Valentine’s Day since and why, when our good friends The Wormies invited us to a cosy kitchen supper last night, we accepted with gratitude. Slow-cooked pork, a mean Jamie Oliver rhubarb crumble and an evening spent with friends proved to be quite romantic enough.