Pocket Money: Yuk, it's Valentine's Day, time for shops to gouge the lovers

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The Independent Online

Can you put a price on love? Probably not, but today is the day to have a jolly good stab at it. When the figures are in for how much was spent on roses, chocolates, underwear, and other assorted romantic bits and bobs, it will stretch into millions of pounds. And that's before you factor in the trillions of text messages "from Snuggle Bunny to Huggy Bear" that will be sent by amorous thumb merchants.

Can you put a price on love? Probably not, but today is the day to have a jolly good stab at it. When the figures are in for how much was spent on roses, chocolates, underwear, and other assorted romantic bits and bobs, it will stretch into millions of pounds. And that's before you factor in the trillions of text messages "from Snuggle Bunny to Huggy Bear" that will be sent by amorous thumb merchants.

Britain's men, normally reluctant to express anything stronger than mild tolerance of their spouse, come over all slushy on this day and buy the first thing they see that's packaged in red, heart-shaped or with a teddy bear attached.

Petrol stations across the country are at the ready with the carnations and novelty car-fresheners; lingerie companies are calling for extra shop assistants to cope with the demand. As you read this, there will be a whiff of panic in the air, created by those who have not thought ahead.

My personal Valentine's experience reached its nadir the year my then-boyfriend thoughtfully purchased a frying-pan for me. Still in the carrier bag, it was presented with no billet-doux, not even a kiss. (Probably just the vain hope that I would immediately cook him a loving fry-up.) To be fair, it was a Le Creuset frying pan from John Lewis, (my favourite shop in the whole world) so it did cost £59, but it's hardly erotic.

He said he didn't believe in "Hallmark holidays", events staged just to give retailers a bigger profit. And looking at the frenzy of activity around Valentine's Day, it's hard to disagree. Florists hike their prices; several are offering single stems for upward of £12.99, when a bouquet of a dozen usually costs about £40 (you do the math, as they say).

They say that takings in the week before Valentine's Day help average out the year into a reasonable business, but that doesn't excuse fleecing nervous teenagers and unimaginative husbands. It occurs to me now that cut flowers are a bit of an odd way of declaring undying love: they die quickly, and old flower water is quite the most unpleasant dank smell. It's a bit, "Darling I adore you, this week ... "

And supermarkets attach heart-shaped swing-tags to otherwise anonymous products to make them appeal to clueless lovers (tasteless Dutch strawberries, for instance). Perhaps the most absurd offering is the Iceland special love pizza, a heart-shaped, dough-based edifice with asparagus topping on one half, and strawberries, bananas and chocolate spread on the other. All washed down with a heart-shaped Gaviscon tablet, I suppose.

Thinking about it, perhaps that would have been the perfect gift for that boyfriend. I've still got the frying-pan, 10 years later, so I've had to admit it was a good-value gift, unlike my attempt the same year (underwear that far cost more per square inch than the pan, and is now in a drawer, never to be seen, or fitted into, again).

We've now got an agreement not to buy anything in the run-up to 14 February and instead, we attempt to surprise each other with random acts of affection through the year.

Successful moments have included diamond stud earrings tucked down the back of the sofa, a message written in strands of lavender from the garden, and tickets for a weekend in Dublin hidden in the atlas.

Sigh. As with so much in life, it's the thought that counts but the credit card that makes it possible. Just add me to the statistics for this year's millions.

(And if you're wondering what happened to frying pan man, I married him.)

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