I came across a young couple yesterday whilst on a run in Wanstead Flats. They were resting on a damp log, swaddled up to the hilt to keep out the cold, her head nestled in his lap. This log, the remnant of a felled oak, sits behind an artificial lake surrounded by dingy thickets that harbour rats the size of juvenile polar bears. They play chicken with you, scampering close to your feet as you pass by the busy road which groans and sighs with empty buses heading towards the cemetery. Urbanised, gluten-fatigued swans sidle past empty bottles and faded crisp packets. In other words, there are nicer spots nearby. More uplifting spots. Spots you would choose if you didn’t mind being seen together. If you were allowed to be seen together.
The man – mid, possibly even late twenties – followed me with his eyes as I ran past, his head remaining perfectly still. This is romance in 2021, forcing the behaviour of desperate teenagers upon fully-grown humans. What was in their hands? Bottles of Budweiser. Will I see these two again on February 14th, on the same log, with a bottle of Bollinger Rosé in hand?
If we had been in a better place, perhaps the Government would have allayed the disappointment of Christmas with a relaxation of the rules at Valentine’s Day – spend a night in someone else’s home! Or perhaps the defunct NHS Track and Trace system could be re-purposed as some kind of Covid-friendly Tinder, notifying singletons if someone nearby has antibodies and enjoys long walks by the sea? Alas, we are where we are, and Valentines Day 2021 is really only for those of us that already live with the people we love. It’s a bit like celebrating the impeachment of an already-departed President – technically worthwhile, but prone to remind us of things we ought to have done earlier.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and absence is in short supply. Not only that, but the respective durations tend to match; a day at work, a day at school, a day of fondness. A trip to the bathroom or the recycling bin might only be repaid in seconds. I don’t want to sound glib in front of those that are living alone, but solitude is not something us cohabiters can possibly feel qualified to comment on any more. We have forgotten what it is, and we lack the opportunity to do any research.
What I do know is that my wife and I have agreed, for the first time ever, to celebrate Valentines Day. We will head out to the most romantic place I can conceive of; a place where lovers meet, where nature thrives, where all of life, from start to finish, can be taken in during the course of one deep breath. There must be something good about that log, after all. We will bring with us a three year old boy, a bag of crisps and a bottle of pink champagne, and we will take all of them back home afterwards. I think we will have a grand time.