Roses are Red…

Johnny Ireland

It was February 14th 1975.

“Son, you have a letter from the postman,” shouted my dad. I was eleven. Eleven-year-olds didn’t get letters…

The envelope had really strange writing, like it was written with the wrong hand. It also had a stamp. There was no surname, just my first name. And no postcode. An era when your mail would arrive, postcode or not…

I opened the envelope to find a card with a huge red heart on the front. PLEASE BE MY VALENTINE. Inside, written in the same squiggly writing as the envelope, it said:

Roses are red

Violets are blue

I love you more

Than squashed tomatoes and stew

Followed by 50 kisses.

“I think you have an admirer there, son,” said my dad. “A big one. Smile at every girl today. It could be one of them…”

“Who is St Valentine?” I asked my dad.

“Ask the priest at school,” came the reply.

I asked Father Thomas and learned that St Valentine was a Roman priest who was martyred by Emperor Claudius II on 14th February 269AD for preaching the good word. He was the Patron Saint of beekeepers, engaged couples, epilepsy, fainting, greetings, happy marriages, love, plague, travellers, and young people. He was beheaded for his beliefs.

Beheaded? Wow!

At junior school, we played such an innocent game during lunch break. It would be banned in this era as ‘unacceptable’. It was called Kiss Chase. Basically, a number of boys and girls ran around the playground chasing their favourite classmate. Looking back now it was funny. The best looking boys or the prettiest girls always had the most chasers. However, they tended to be the fastest and would never be caught!

I was lucky to be born with my mother’s genetic looks and my father’s personality, charm, and very slow legs.

As I ran around the school playground, hoping to be caught, I wondered which classmate felt so much about me that she went to such extremes to send a message, yet wished to remain anonymous.

On my wedding day, my best man (and still to this day my best friend), who was far too speedy during those games of Kiss Chase ever to be caught – oh, how much he missed out on in life – took great delight during his speech to tell all that I was captain of the school Kiss Chase team. He also told everyone that because I was the slowest boy at school I was also the most likely to be caught by a speedy girl!

A year after receiving that first card in 1975, I was the recipient of three further Valentine cards. My mother and sister admitted to sending one each (‘just in case you didn’t get one’) whilst one was written with the same handwriting as the previous year.

Roses are red

Violets are blue

I STILL love you more

Than squashed tomatoes and stew

‘STILL’ was written in bold red writing and underlined.

I counted 100 kisses.

Each Valentine’s Day at school there was always great delight in sharing the ‘card received’ count. The sporty, good looking kids got the most. I came somewhere in the middle. I look back now at the quiet ones at school: the so-called gawky kids. Never sporty, never really in with the ‘in crowd’. Mental health was never discussed in those days, especially in children. Were they affected? Are they still?

In total I received five Valentine cards from the same person until I left school at the age of 16. To this day I still do not know who the sender was.

I always hoped they were from Kathy. If ever Kathy was to look through the letterbox of your front door, you would immediately fall in love. She was blessed, not just with good looks but with beautiful, piercing, emerald green eyes.

Kathy always caught me during Kiss Chase. She was the school running champion. She was so fast (and I was deliberately slow) yet every time she caught me she never kissed me. Not once. She merely blew me a kiss as she ran off smiling. Maybe my genetic looks weren’t that good, after all?

One of my old school friends never took part in Kiss Chase. He didn’t see the point. He was considered ‘strange’ by his classmates. He met his male soulmate early in his 20s and they remain happily married to this day, having hidden their relationship in the early days for fear of reprisal. That still makes me feel sad.

I left school aged 16. No further education. No university. To do that nowadays there is a strong chance you’d be considered a dropout or a failure. But I wanted to travel, to change the world and make an impact. And I couldn’t wait to get started!

I only ever attended one school reunion. It was held in the local pub in 1995 and a total of 40 ex-classmates attended. Arriving early, I thought of those Valentine cards and whether the girl responsible would be there. Would Kathy be there?

I hadn’t seen Kathy for 15 years and I asked one of her old friends how she was getting on.

“She’ll be coming later with her partner.”

“Great,” I said. “Is he a nice guy?”

‘’He is a she,” came the reply. “They’ve been together forever.”

The pub door opened and in walked Kathy with those emerald green eyes. She walked over and kissed me on the cheek and I was instantly back in the school playground.

“This is my partner, Jo. We met when we were both 17. She was the first person I ever kissed.”
All those years later, the penny dropped.

My first proper Valentine’s date, 40 years ago, consisted of a three-course-meal and a half bottle of wine (yes, you could buy a half bottle in those days) for £12.95 per person. It was money well spent. I fell, and remain, in love with the beauty who sat opposite me that night. Obviously, it wasn’t Kathy.

Valentine’s Day was such a simplistic and affordable way to express love. How bizarre that, as with my experience, such effort could be taken yet anonymity reigned. As years went by, the marketing gurus took over. A normal bunch of roses quadrupled in price, as did the Valentine’s meal and the card. Just like those old playground games, the magic and innocence of Valentine’s Day seems to have been lost.

In a world now driven by social media, everyone owns some form of technology allowing a simple message to be transmitted, be it by text, email, WhatsApp, Instagram, etc. Can you imagine receiving such a message?

Roses are red

Violets are blue…

A message expressing love, from an unknown number or email address?

Rather than a romantic gesture, it would more than likely be ‘romance fraud’, sent to an individual deliberately targeted and duped into sending money to criminals. These fraudsters go to great lengths to gain the trust of their target and convince them they are in a genuine relationship. Romance fraud is now at such a high level that dedicated reporting websites exist to support police investigations into such scammers.

I still remember how it felt to receive those anonymous cards. I also remember the look of love between Kathy and her partner. And I will never forget my first Valentine’s date with the same beauty who still makes me smile today.

Never miss an opportunity to express true love… safely.