Oh dear. I thought I’d really cracked my Valentine’s Day responsibilities this year. On Friday 12th February I purchased a rather fetching and not-too-schmaltzy card. I was due to go home to my beloved the very next day, and so would not need to rely on the vagaries of the postal service. I congratulated myself on my lack of forgetfulness, on my tastefulness, and on the warm glow that I was already feeling, and which my wife would soon be sharing. When I got home I ironed my shirts for the entirety of the coming week; I hoovered my flat. No searching questions about my domestic arrangements would find me wanting; no recriminations or imputations of indulging in back-sliding towards bachelorhood would be permitted to disfigure my return to my wife’s warm embrace. I crafted some exquisite lines to write in the card. They reflected on the hard and painful road of enforced separation that we were having to travel. They acknowledged the disproportionate way in which these hardships fell on my wife. They thanked her for her stoicism and resilience. They assured her of my love and of my grateful appreciation. I was firing on all cylinders.
On Saturday 13th February I set out bright and early to drive the 200 miles that separated us. Round about Birmingham I thought about my precious Valentine’s card, and I thought about the fact that it was even at that moment sitting on the dining table of my Manchester flat. My previous evening’s smugness dissipated as quickly as the snow flurries were melting on my windscreen. In its place came ferocious self-abuse. (Please, I was driving. The abuse I directed at myself was entirely verbal.) But no amount of self-denigration, no degree of acceptance that I was indeed a forgetful and pathetic tosser, were going to teleport that card to my moving vehicle.
Inevitably, despite my wife’s genuine pleasure at my arrival, and notwithstanding the next day’s loving aura precipitated by my wife’s card to me, there was at least the scintilla of a doubt in her mind about whether my card was really on that table, or whether perhaps I was merely deploying a smokescreen to cover my neglectfulness. I knew it. She knew it. And why did she have to remember to buy me a card this year when she’s forgotten often enough before?
So on the Monday morning, when back at work, the first thing I did was to put a first-class stamp on the card’s romantic rose-red envelope, and put it in the tray for out-going post. Although that would not prove I’d bought it in advance, it might re-assure to some extent. By the Thursday I was worried. No card had arrived. My wife was doing a good job of not explicitly accusing me of deception and untruthfulness, and a rather less good one of not doing so subliminally. I fulminated against the inefficiency of my office colleagues; they had clearly sat on the card and not posted it until a day or two later. It would come, I remonstrated. By the time my wife arrived in Manchester the following weekend, without so much as a sniff of a Valentine’s missive, everything was getting a bit fraught.
She rang me yesterday. After a suitable delay, the Post Office had written her a note saying that a letter that they would dearly have loved to have delivered to her was having to be withheld. However, if she would care to visit the sorting office, armed with £1.08, she would be able to receive it despite the fact that the sender had failed to apply sufficient postage. It’s hard to imagine a more belittling scene. My poor wife not only had to pay for the privilege of receiving my Valentine’s Day card 2 weeks late, she also had to suffer the smirking impertinence of Post Office workers handing her a rose-red token of my romantic attachment which had sadly not extended to paying enough actually to get it to her. This is a deficit in my account of proportions not dissimilar to the public sector borrowing requirement. I fear I shall be repaying it over an analogous time period.