The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 9 February

Dear Thomas,

I’ve been thinking: which is better – to have a date on Valentine’s Day, or not to have a date?

Vera Bridges, Sawbridgeworth

Dear Vera

Romance is lovely: red roses, heart- shaped everything, even biscuits. Who could resist it? A dream. You’re seated in a heart-shaped Valentine’s Day restaurant in a kind of purring red haze, the flowers and the chocs have been presented – everything’s perfect. The trouble is, some buckle under the strain. They plunge to dismal banality, despite every effort. Before they know it, they’re listing the DIY tasks they’ve got lined up. Or complaining about potholes. If this is you, go at Valentine’s Day sideways. It’s all in your head. Be normal, then you’ll enjoy it and it’ll be romantic.

As for singles, I hear from America that Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to be about cuddly couples gazing into each other’s eyes. Love may be spread more generally but, especially in the current climate, you have to be careful how you go about it. A bouquet of raging red roses for your boss is not the right idea. But yellow flowers (yellow is for friendship, but avoid white, which signals death) placed in the office for everybody’s pleasure would be perfect. Or even a box of heart-shaped chocs, provided they are not given to anybody in particular but left in the office kitchen for general consumption – that would be a charming gesture, implicitly acknowledging those whose way romance has not come without drawing attention to them.

You could make the same flowers/chocs offering in the kitchenette of the community hall, or at the trustees’ meeting, or if you happen to be giving/attending a charity coffee morning that day. People will find it unexpected, a little bit thrilling – an excellent uplift while sorting knitwear for Africa or planning the summer fayre.

Another American suggestion is that singles on Valentine’s Day cook themselves baked chicken with spinach, pear and blue cheese, or beef and broccoli ramen, or smoked gouda mac and cheese – or possibly all three. ‘Just because your heart is empty doesn’t mean your stomach has to be!’ You’re also allowed a special Valentine’s Day cocktail on your miserable singles’ night in. No thank you, America. We can do better! We won’t be consoling ourselves with this disgusting fare.

Something below 40 per cent of the population are properly single. It’s hardly a freakish state of affairs. Some might even like it. It’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that, despite publicity, they will be ignoring Valentine’s Day. Or mounting a counter-attack in the form of a rebellious singles- only outing. Still mad keen for a date? Well, bound along to Manchester or Islington, where the proportions of unattached are higher than elsewhere.

Please send your questions to or write to him at The Lady, 39-40 Bedford Street, London WC2E 9ER

WHAT TO DO ABOUT...Plastic bottles

There’s a litter thing on again. As if we don’t remember to keep Britain tidy. This time it’s serious. plastic single-use water bottles are the culprit, threatening the planet. People tend their own environment, as it were, watering their persons internally with infinite care in pursuit of eternal health, then chuck the bottle idly into a nearby hedge. This irony has not been much mentioned and nobody has dared to ask, ‘is it really necessary to drink all this water? Can’t you just wait until you get home?’ Anyway, single-use plastic bottles have got to stop altogether, not just the dumping of them in the wrong places. The reusable bottle is now the thing. And you go into cafés and ask them to fill it for you, offering to pay 50p. In Bristol, there’s a scheme to encourage this practice. Before the first World War, before there were cafés and restaurants everywhere, it was quite okay to stop at a farm and ask for a glass of milk. So, really, it’s just going back to how things were – and still are in less ‘developed’ countries, where hospitality is always offered to travelers.