The British in love: a nation of cuddlers and crumpet toasters

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The Independent Online
British women's idea of a romantic evening is sharing a bottle of wine in front of the fire, according to one of the latest Valentine's surveys, which show that as 14 February dawns, the most romantic - or disappointing - day of the year is spreading ever further into the intimate corners of our lives. Cards and roses have been joined by bondage advice from environmentalists and computer back-up for the emotionally-challenged.

It is unlikely that the words "romance" and "smokeless fuels" have often been uttered in the same breath. But the Coalite company lit on Valentine's day as an excuse to ask: "What is the most romantic thing you can do in front of a real fire?"

Unsurprisingly, four out of 10 people said it was making love. Furthermore, 44 per cent of men and 37 per cent of women claim to have already done so.

The next most popular fireside activities were sharing wine and chocolates, cuddling, toasting a crumpet, and watching television or a video. Nine per cent claimed to prefer an undisclosed "other", while 4 per cent "didn't know". Meanwhile, dispelling the notion that women are turned off by hot air, a survey published to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Cosmopolitan magazine placed the ginger-bearded entrepreneur Richard Branson second only to actor Sean Bean as its readers' "ideal man".

He was followed by footballer Alan Shearer, actor Jean-Claude Van Damme and Paul McCartney. Comedians David Baddiel and Jim Carrey took sixth and seventh place.

Meanwhile, the Internet offered numerous Web sites for people who preferred to declare their passions via the silver screen. And computer buffs can substitute roms for roses with the CD-Rom Cupid's Love Notes and, for those who forgot, Mark's Apology Note Generator.

For a slightly more personal, if noisier touch, town crier Graham Vedmore offered himself to deliver Valentine's marriage proposals for lovers. For a small fee, the 42-year-old from Cardiff also offered to bellow out Valentine's Day love poems.

And even the environmental campaigners Friends of the Earth got in on the act, by proposing a few tips for green lovers. They included saving on energy by spending the day in bed together, bathing or showering with a friend and, for those with a sense of "adventure", using recycled handcuffs that had finished duty chaining road protesters to diggers.

But some organisations yesterday offered a more solemn approach to the increasing hysteria. The marriage guidance charity Relate issued a warning to couples on the most romantic day of the year, stressing that "love is for life, not just for Valentine's Day". The organisation is launching three sobering courses to coincide with Valentine's Day - on love and marriage, on anger management and, finally, on surviving the break-up.

And, perhaps mirroring many people's experience of the day, a St Valentine's ball arranged for a group of teenagers had to be cancelled - due to a lack of interest from the boys. More than 50 girls applied for tickets for a dance to be held at Owlesbury parish hall near Winchester in Hampshire, in aid of the Samaritans, but the organisers received no applications at all from any boys.

The dance was due to take place on 15 February, and it was hoped it would raise at least pounds 1,000 for Winchester Samaritans to help renew a vital telephone system. Audrey Brunt, chairman of the Friends of the Samaritans, said: "The cancellation is a disappointment - but you can't have a teenage Valentine's ball without boys."