The Mechanical Valentine

by Kat Arnsby

It’s a mistake to pop into Tesco Metro Piccadilly at 7pm the night before Valentine’s Day. It’s a place where normal supermarket logic is entirely subverted at the best of times. Jars of sauce and fresh veg face the frozen foods, just over a metre apart, in a random food standoff that would have Jamie Oliver’s head imploding in a frenzy of culinary confusion. The end result is the unintentional touching of bums with a stranger who’s attempting to liberate oven chips while you consider carrots.

When it comes to celebrated days, Tesco Metro Piccadilly suffers further assaults on its limited space as the beleaguered shop floor staff squeeze in extra seasonal products, creating a health and safety nightmare of an edible jumble sale.

Around Valentine’s Day, every tiny morsel of space is packed out with red teddy bears, overpriced chocolates and drab looking flowers in sparkly paper. If you stand in there and squint, it looks as though every fairy tale character ever conceived has moved into a giant gingerbread house five seconds before it got blown up, resulting in a fluffy, glittery scene of whimsical massacre.

As I queued for the till and considered just how much of a loser I would be for buying myself a cupcake with “I [heart] U” on it, I noticed an exasperated young man poking at bunches of roses. He picked one up and as he did, two of the stems drooped in a very unromantic fashion. He grunted audibly and dropped it back down.

Then the young hero noticed some expansive bunches of mixed red and pink flowers wrapped in faux lace and gaudy love-heart paper. They cost £15. When he spotted the price tag, I saw him look wistfully back to the impotent roses. They flopped their inferiority, his shoulders visibly sagged, and he picked up the £15 lacy love bunch.
Romeo looked around, his expression that of a toddler looking for adult approval, and he tapped the arm of a young woman in the queue.

“Do you like these?” he asked politely. She looked a bit taken aback. “They’re for my missus.” He clarified quickly. “It’s our first Valentine’s Day together.”

The young woman shrugged. “Yeah, they’re alright.” There was a pause and the young man looked at the flowers with resignation. “Why don’t you get some chocolates too?” The girl suggested, trying to be helpful, but clearly opening up an emotional and financial wound that was too much for the befuddled beau to bear. He stared woefully up the crowded aisle, towards piles of red boxes and cuddly toys, and I watched the light of new love drain from his face.

“Thanks.” He said to the girl, and shuffled towards the back of the queue, his energy and enthusiasm spent, with his cash about to go the same way.

I wanted to tell him not to bother, to tell him to put the half dead plant-life back on the shelf and run away from the Tesco Metro Piccadilly Valentine’s Day Massacre. I wanted to let him know that UK citizens spend more than 1% of the entire annual healthcare budget in one pointless, faux lace gesture on 14th February every year, and he would be a hero to stand strong and tell his girlfriend they could be in love without the predictable presentation of floppy flowers.

A day with liturgical origins that celebrates romantic love is bound to be problematic for an atheist spinster, but on reflection, I think it’s less of a problem for me than for people in relationships; unlike other festive events, I am free of any obligation to express my love for someone on an exact and arbitrary day of the year.

In the end, I decided to buy the cupcake. I ate it while I wrote this, and I have to admit, it was rather nice; a delicious, sticky symbol of my love for complex carbs and icing, a true love that I celebrate inexpensively every day of the year.