Valentine's Day massacre

How cardless students can wring new joys from the bitterest day.

There's a good chance you're not looking forward to tomorrow. In colleges and universities around the country, cornflake packets are being cunningly fashioned into heart shapes, flowers stolen from outside florists, boxes of Milk Tray lovingly wrapped. Valentine's Day. Yippee.

It has to be one of the worst rituals of college life: checking your pigeon hole on 14 February. No matter what time you try to dodge in, just on the off chance of a card, there will always be a gaggle of smug students, each with seven envelopes and an armful of roses, watching as you fish out a club flyer and a letter from the Christian Union: "So, get any cards this year?" Nope. Not this year. Not last year. Not ever. Well, to be honest, once. Thanks, Mum.

To all those students whose pigeon holes are cardless tomorrow morning, take my advice: don't be despondent; turn your bitterness to your advantage. Get nasty.

The first thing to remember is that Valentine's Day is a festival of hypocrisy. The sense of "mystery" surrounding the card-giving is completely fake. There are three main reasons why a card gets sent.

1). It has to be. You've been going out together for six months, and if you don't send one it means sulking and recriminations for weeks afterwards. Where's the romance or mystery in that?

2) It's sent to someone you fancy and have been flirting with for ages. They know damn well it's from you. You know they know. Why pretend to anonymity? Why not just send a postcard saying "let's go out" and sign it?

3) It's sent to someone you secretly admire. Either they'll think it's from someone else, in which case it was utterly pointless, or you'll have made so many obvious hints to your identity that you might as well have sent the "let's go out" postcard instead.

There's only one right and proper way to send a Valentine's card: as a wind-up. Only then is anonymity put to honest use. (Besides, if you're not going to get any cards, you may as well ruin someone else's day.) And there's no better place to send false Valentines than a college campus, a tinder-box of intrigue, jealousy and sexual frustration just waiting for a well aimed spark. Here's some ideas.

For the beginner (or the remorselessly cruel), there's the classic Hope Dasher. Send a card to some lonely lovesick soul, get their hopes up, watch them skipping around the corridors trying to spy their potential mate, then two days later tell them it was from you. (NB also known as the Friend Loser).

The Delayed Action method. My friend Alan enjoyed a long correspondence with his college librarian. He would suggest new seating plans, compliment her on her hairstyle, ask permission to release a flock of sheep into the library as a publicity stunt. That last one got him into a bit of trouble, but I couldn't resist it. Come Valentine's Day, I sent her a discreet card, unsigned, of course, with a little verse along the lines of: "Be my belly button/ and I'll be your fluff/ if your hands are cold/ I'll be your muff" etc. Then, a couple of days later I sent her an innocuous note requesting that Walkman users be flogged and signed it "Your little bit of belly fluff, Alan." She cried, apparently. I feel a bit bad about that.

The Mass Disappointment plan. Send out a dozen or so Valentines, to people who a) don't know each other well enough to see each other's cards, and b) are desperate enough to fall for it. Invite each of them to come along to the same pub at the same time to meet their mystery admirer, whom they will recognise by the rose that he or she will be wearing. Leave a long enough time for them to enjoy some awkward buttonhole gazing, then turn up, wearing a rose, have a quiet drink and bask in the disappointment.

The Riddle. Best perpetrated upon the sort of stalker-mentality, manic- obsessive characters that every college Star Trek Society can provide. Address your victim with a significant-sounding name, like "Mr September" then get them riddling:

"Who am I? My first is in disquietude, but not in pain; my second is in euphoria but not in sane..." The key here is to eliminate as few letters as you can, so maximising the number of possible names: "My third is in decompartmentalisation, but not in box; and all the rest, when re-arranged, spell out something that you'd find on the bridge of the USS Enterprise."

Send them off to the library with some literary references, like "Milton 11.64", which, when they realise it's a reference to the William Blake poem, will provide them with much to ponder: "He leads the Choir of Day: trill, trill, trill, trill."

Also enclose a page torn out from an old Cosmo with some random underlinings, a tape-recording of an old Cab Calloway song, two playing cards stapled together and a hand-drawn map with lots of arrows and distances. The map should be just detailed enough to justify a bus-trip but just vague enough to be of no use whatsoever once the person's arrived.

Follow up the Valentine with daily clues, conundrums and blurred photographs, and by the end of February your victim should be ready for the nut house.

Finally, for the sick-minded (or vengeful) there's the Animal Bits method. I don't know about you, but it wouldn't matter how many red roses I received if in amongst my Valentine's cards there was a Jiffy bag containing a pig's heart. I'd still mark it down as a bad dayn

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