Belfast Telegraph

Home Life Weekend

I've done mini breaks and meals out ... now I've discovered the best Valentine's Day gift of all

By Kerry McLean

If you're married, in a relationship or if you just have a wee notion of someone, there's something you need to do this weekend. Have you remembered? If you're scratching your head, let me give you a clue. Step foot inside the tiniest of corner shops or the massive multi-storey mega-supermarkets and you might just notice that they have something in common - their shelves, festooned with an over-abundance of glittery pink hearts, red roses, fluffy teddies and, of course, those saccharine sweet greetings cards.

You'd think they'd be hard to miss but they've been there since Boxing Day and, after a while, they start to look like part of the furniture. Be warned though, the warm-up is over and you can delay your romantic purchases no longer. Valentine's Day is just around the corner.

I'm pointing this out to you because, despite all the visual clues jumping out at me every year, I have to hold my hands up and confess to forgetting the day once … okay, twice, but who's counting? Apart from my husband ...

If you're in the midst of an exciting new romance, you probably don't need to be reminded. You've been looking forward to this day for months, planning a surprise or two and poring over the poems in the cards to make sure you get the one with just the right sentiment for your beloved.

It's the poor souls like myself who've had decades together under our belts who need a bit of a nudge to remember to up the romance on Wednesday. The only planning we make is a detour on the way from the toilet roll aisle to the baby food shelf to grab a card, chosen not because of the beautiful verse within but because it's either the first one that comes to hand or, and I'm speaking purely for myself here, has a photo of a monkey on the front. Especially a monkey with stick-on googly eyes, always a winner for me!

At this stage you're probably feeling sorry for my other half but, trust me, there's no need. I know it may not sound it, but I'm a very romantic person. I love walks on the beach, cuddling up on the sofa, listening to music together and I even attempt heart-shaped pancakes for him at the weekend, though they normally emerge looking more like burnt kidneys.

He's left in no doubt that I love him and vice-versa. It's just that, much like ourselves, the face and shape of romance changes a lot over time, as you meander down the tunnel of love together, and it now feels more important to me to make hundreds of little loving gestures across 12 months than indulge in one big splurge over a 24-hour period.

My husband and I have celebrated 18 Valentine's Days together, no two the same but all special in their own way.

It makes me smile to think back to our first few years, when we were still getting to know each other and intent on creating utopian Valentine's Day adventures.

We would head off on last-minute city breaks, visiting romantic places like Barcelona, Prague or Paris, the perfect escape for young couples free of any sort of commitment. We had no mortgage to pay, so there were no big bills to worry about; we had no children or pets, so there was no pre-holiday dashing about, making arrangements.

We would get lost in those cities, eat too much, drink too much and make lots of memories.

Cut to a few years into the future and our children have naturally taken centrestage.

We've had a few February 14 nights out, thanks to the generosity of my mum babysitting, but the most we've been able to muster some years has been a supermarket meal deal, bunged in the oven, shared out among five and everyone fast asleep by 9pm.

And do you know what? They're my favourite Valentine's Days - when the kids sneak into our bed, when we're all crammed in like sardines, and I feel very grateful for the great big mountain of love we have in our lives.

That's the biggest and best gift we could ever give each other.

So, you can forget your flowers and chocolates ... well, the flowers anyway.

Belfast Telegraph

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