This morning, as I made my way across London, my mind wandered (as it is wont to do at this time of year) to thoughts on Valentine’s Day. And I was thinking about how deeply strange it is that we associate this day with romance. There are many stories about Saint Valentine that differ in a variety of ways, all of which may well be apocryphal, but they do all have a number of common strands. Bishop Valentine lived in Third Century Rome, and on February 14th (of an indeterminate year) he was incarcerated, tortured and finally beheaded. And we commemorate this with chocolate and flowers and gushy, hollow sentiments.
So when someone says “Be My Valentine”, they are essentially saying “I want to decapitate you”. We are a population of surreptitious skull-fuckers…
Whilst all of this was rattling around my head, I was battling the reliably unreliable London Underground and, for reasons far too dull to enumerate here, my journey forced me to be disgorged from the Tube at Charing Cross. As I brought myself back to street level, I found myself in Trafalgar Square, and I stopped in a little bit of breathless awe. I looked across at the entrance to the National Gallery, and I looked up at the granite slope of Nelson’s Column. I was surrounded on all sides by the four bronze lions, their surfaces slick and shiny with rain.
Amongst all the concrete and grey, over on the fourth plinth I could see Katharina Fritsch's Hahn/Cock, a splash of bright blue popping on a grey landscape. I turned my face to the sky to feel the light bite of the drizzle falling from the flat slate grey sky and I just thought that it was All So Damn Beautiful. All of it.
I've lived in London from the day that I was born, in University College Hospital. Can’t get much closer to the heart of the capital than that. That’s over four decades moving around and over and across and beneath this city. And I find it endlessly surprising and infuriating and delightful. It still shows me new sides of itself. It still finds way to please and stimulate me, even when I’m not in the mood. And I thought...Now, that is love.
Happy Valentine’s Day everybody.