I didn’t get a Valentines Card last year, nor the year before. In fact when I really thought about it, I realised I hadn’t had one for nearly 10 years. It was then, I decided to do something about it. In the office I’ve had the odd Birthday Card, and at Xmas we usually manage to exchange cards. However, Valentines Day, for me, has always been a dead loss, a complete and absolute Dodo. Am I really that fat and unattractive?
I work on the twelfth floor at Plymouth Council. Over the years, it’s become a ritual for staff to exchange the contents of their Valentine cards, no matter where they came from. People would even bring them in from home, and open them in front of everyone. Shrieks and sighs would be the order of the day. If only the poor devils that sent them had known, they’d have died of embarrassment.
“Oh Debbie. How sexy.” They’d chorus, as she carefully opened her padded card, releasing a few verses from Barry White. John would gently open his card from Janet. No sounds, but lots of romantic twaddle, which he dramatically reads out to an adoring audience. Craig’s was hysterical, as usual, and as usual, quite rude. Matt’s cards from Tim were moronic, and inevitably from a clear out sale at Poundland, with the price usually still displayed on the back. Claire’s was probably a repeat. I distinctly remember her, coming into the office with the same one, in previous years. I’m sure she simply glued the envelope down again. Was I the only one to notice? Nah!
I never questioned their enjoyment, nor joined in. Cos I never got one. Although I knew they were mouthing to one another behind my back “Ellie got nothing as usual.” This time it would be different.
I bought the biggest blooming Valentines Card in the shop. It cost me nearly a tenner and weighed a ton. Sonia, who runs my local pub on the Barbican, helped me fill it in. She understood some of the problems I was having, and was very sympathetic. In her own way, Sonia was an agony aunt for various middle-aged men and women who frequented her bar. Always sympathetic, caring and available, but with strict house rules. Especially with men. For Sonia business and pleasure didn’t mix.
She could listen, to the most detailed and graphic explanations, as to why a person”s relationship had broken down. Sonia would sympathise. Sonia would empathise. But that’s as close as any man ever got to her actual thighs. Me? I didn’t even get the chance of a man fancying me. Nevertheless, Sonia was brilliant. So was her daughter Mandy who helped out in the bar.
‘Ellie.’ she said. ‘You’ve spent a lot of dosh on the card, but it needs a little extra oomph. Leave it to me.’ A few minutes later, Mandy came back downstairs from her flat. She had a photograph in her hand, and said it was a former boyfriend, a Royal Marine called Jason. She passed it to Sonia, who wrote a few words and some kisses on the back, then put it inside the card before sealing it and addressing it to me at the office.
Whilst it was only a brief glimpse, I personally believe that a man’s assets are best displayed with a modicum of clothing, and with as much left to the imagination as possible. Mind you, I was quite looking forward to opening the card, and Sonia seemed to enjoy adding to the content. As an added safeguard, before posting it, I took the card into Dingles and whilst pretending to put it on the back of my hand, gave it a spray from a really expensive sample on the men’s toiletries.
On Valentine’s Day I deliberately took a day’s leave. That wasn’t unusual, but I wanted no other distractions. Next morning, I immediately noticed how quiet it was in the office. There was a distinct air of expectancy. I felt many eyes on me, as I approached my desk in the Civic Centre. I nodded, to the usual people that I nod with, and ignored those that, I knew I could afford to. I looked down at my desk. There it stood. Propped up against my PC screen. Erect and alone, like the Statue of Liberty. My first office Valentine’s card.
I took my jacket off slowly, put my sandwiches away on my bookcase, and placed my umbrella in the adjacent stand. Dame Helen Mirren, would have been hard pressed to beat my performance. I sat down and casually switched on the PC, whilst in the same movement removing the card blocking the screen. Opening it nonchalantly, I pretended to study the content, whilst carefully palming the photograph, so that I could glimpse what Sonia’s daughter had enclosed. My God it was hot!
I deliberately tore the card in two, in a disdainful but precise way, and carefully placed it in the adjacent waste bin. I left the photograph face down on my desk, put my jacket back on, picked up my handbag, and told the receptionist I would be back in an hour. After 45 minutes, the tension was too much. I stood up, massaged my numbed buttocks, opened the cubicle and re-entered the office from the adjacent toilets.
There was a distinctly different atmosphere, particularly amongst the women. I strode confidently towards my desk, nodding graciously to the left and to the right. Even Sue the autocratic office manager seemed impressed. I felt like an Empress returning in triumph. Helen of Troy. Cleopatra. Unusually and significantly, men were also deferring their gaze, in my presence. Well that’s what it seemed like.
As I approached my desk I felt the ultimate surge of adrenalin. Clearly the photograph had been examined and the waste bin had also been moved. My card had been read by some, but pronounced to many. Ellie reigned supreme.
I sat down slowly, and opened my desk drawer to put my handbag away.
‘Oh my God‘ There, sat another Valentine’s Card. The handwriting was totally unfamiliar. It was masculine, strong and bold, and clearly it hadn’t been posted. An internal office Valentine for me! With trembling hands, and discretely enclosing it within a file on housing policy, I teased open the envelope, and from a distance read the contents.
“I’ve loved you from afar.
No day has gone by,
As each night I cry
To be with you,
To have you lie
In my safe strong arms,
Our bodies would gel
Ellie, Oh Ellie
Will you please be my girlie?”
‘Bugger it.’ I thought. ‘Trust me to get it wrong. 10 years I’ve been waiting for a card. And now? Who Dunnit?’
Then I realised, that I wasn’t just thinking to myself, but had begun shrieking. Loudly. Everyone was definitely paying attention to me now. I picked up the phone and rang the pub. Mandy answered.
“I’ve had enough of your mother” I said triumphantly “Tell her thanks for her help, but I got my own card as well. So there!”
“Oh it arrived did it? We thought you might chicken out, and not send the one you bought. So we sent one in as well, just in case. Jason filled it in, and even wrote the poem. Ellie can you hear me? Ellie? Ellie?”