Fionola Meredith: Spare me the schmaltz: those tacky, tawdry Valentine's Day roses belong in the rubbish bin
Fionola Meredith has had enough of the commercialisation of romance - just keep it nice and simple, she begs
It was the grotesque bunch of roses that really got me. There they were, at the centre of a huge Valentine's Day display, but these roses weren't the ubiquitous red kind that you traditionally see. Instead, each petal had been artificially coloured in lurid shades of blue, pink and purple, and were liberally doused in silver glitter. Nasty.
Imagine a fresh rose, wet from a summer shower: a natural marvel of scent and beauty. Imagine the way the petals feel and smell, and the touch of the raindrops on your face as you bury your nose deep in the centre of the flower.
Now picture these ugly, tawdry, chemically treated blooms, most of which were already going brown around the edges, waiting to be flogged - at a vastly inflated price - to some hapless male with more money than taste.
If somebody presented me with those on February 14, I'd consider it an act of war.
Right there, you have the perfect metaphor for the annual glitzy tack-fest that Valentine's Day has become. It has as much to do with true love as these tortured blossoms have to do with real roses.
For a start, it's all incredibly arbitrary. Why has society declared that February 14 is the day you must show you care? What about the other 364 days of the year?
And tell me, what's so thrillingly romantic about obediently herding into restaurants, alongside hordes of other couples, and munching your way through an over-priced three-course themed menu, simply because convention tells you that's what you're supposed to do on this particular day?
How boring, how predictable, how lacking in imagination.
Or maybe you stayed at home and bought in your romance, supermarket-style. This year Morrisons was selling raw heart-shaped steaks for you and your significant other - because nothing says 'I love you' than sharing a slab of dead cow, no? I mean, why not go the whole hog and divvy up an entire ox heart between you?
Meanwhile Marks & Spencer outdid itself with its embarrassingly suggestive 'love sausage' - two "lightly truffled" bangers wrapped in bacon and forcibly contorted into the shape of a heart.
I can't imagine what it was like being woken up yesterday morning for a Valentine's breakfast in bed with this pungent crime against good taste sliding greasily around the plate. If that happened to you, my deepest sympathies.
Ironically enough, studies show that couples are statistically more likely to break up in the weeks before and after Valentine's Day.
Perhaps the impossible weight of expectations gets to them: the realisation that their relationship is less Heathcliff and Cathy (and that didn't end well), more Itchy and Scratchy. Or maybe it's the unbearable thought of the love sausage and its gruesome ilk.
But Valentine's Day is a mere flash in the pan compared to the monstrous commercialism of the wedding industry, which brazenly takes the idea of romantic love and turns it into cold, hard, loveless cash.
It never ceases to amaze me how otherwise sentient people lose the run of themselves and start throwing thousands of pounds around so that they can have an orchestra at their reception, plus bags of tinted sugared almonds that match the exact colour of the bride's satin bloomers (I exaggerate, but only slightly).
Sorry, but what does any of this silly, banal, sentimental guff have to do with love?
It really bewilders me that couples would saddle themselves with eye-watering levels of debt, which may take decades to pay off, so that they can spend one day of their lives - one single day! - showing off, flouncing about and acting like minor members of the British royalty. That's not romance. That's insanity.
And what's more, it's a singularly poor way to prepare for a lifelong relationship.
The novelist Andrew O'Hagan, commenting on the current trend for over-the-top weddings, puts it perfectly.
He said: "I'm too romantic to fall for a commercial deception masquerading as a sacrament, and too much a believer in love's reality to imagine it requires a tinsel show. Can't we argue for a little simplicity?"
Yes, please, can't we? Because love, at heart, really is simple. It doesn't need 3ft-high teddy bears, rotten, pimped-up roses, or a 10-layer wedding cake decorated with gold-encased hummingbirds to prove its existence.
Love is perennial. You find it all year round in the small, private gestures that show you care deeply about one another.
Anything else is gilding the lily.