Several things crossed my mind when I saw that extraordinary photograph of Helena Bonham Carter apparently wrapped in sexual congress with an enormous fish. One was to congratulate the bigeye tuna clamped between the actress’s lovely thighs on its good fortune, despite being dead. Another was to wonder if she was making some disobliging comment about the boudoir experiences she used to enjoy with her ex-partner, Tim Burton. But then I saw the tattoo on Ms Bonham Carter’s shoulder and realised: it’s another swipe at Valentine’s Day.
I was wrong – as you probably guessed, it’s Helena’s way of supporting the Blue Marine Foundation in its fight against overfishing – but it could so easily have been. For the backlash against tomorrow’s celebration of love, romance and, er, rare steak (have you seen the Marks & Spencer adverts?) has now reached epidemic proportions.
It’s hardly surprising, when the zeitgeist is all about not giving offence to people outside a celebration zone; every smoochtastic commercial for candlelit dinners or heart-shaped comestibles could easily upset the single or the non-amorous, so naturally it’s frowned on. I know of at least six anti-Valentine’s parties scheduled for tomorrow, offering bowls of smashed-up Love Hearts, viewings of the miserable Ryan Gosling movie Blue Valentine and readings from Dorothy Parker’s astringently anti-luurve poems (“Oh life is an unending cycle of song/ a medley of extemporanea/ And love is a thing that can never go wrong/ and I am Marie of Romania.”)
The Huffington Post tells us 14 February is also International Quirkyalone Day, which has been going since 2003 in 40 cities worldwide and is all for (genuine) romance, freedom and individuality. “You can celebrate by yourself,” enthuses its founder Sasha Cagen, “by rearranging your furniture, getting a massage, writing in your journal or taking a long walk by yourself”.
Tomorrow is also Singles’ Awareness Day in the US, and the happily uncoupled can celebrate their status on Facebook and give each other high fives. A website called the Prowl is offering suitable Valentine’s Day gifts for the newly dumped: a T-shirt bearing the legend “Wine is my Valentine”, a coffee mug with the words “Quietly Plotting Revenge” on the side, and a kitchen knife-holder in the shape of a man with room for five knives in it – the top one in his forehead…
These bah-humbug sentiments are child’s play, however, compared to the virulent anti-Val movements growing elsewhere in the world. My favourite is the Japanese group, the Revolutionary Alliance of Men that Women Find Unattractive, founded in 2006 by Katsuhiro Furusawa, who read The Communist Manifesto after his girlfriend walked out and decided that being sexually unappealing was a class thing, requiring Marxist action. The group will march through Tokyo tomorrow, holding banners proclaiming “Crush St Valentine’s Day” and “Flirting is Terrorism”. I assume the RAMTWFU’s protestations are tongue-in-cheek, if they’ll forgive the phrase, but you can’t be sure.
20 best Valentine's getaways in the UK
20 best Valentine's getaways in the UK
1/20 The Ducket, Northumberland
If you’re looking for somewhere truly magical, this lovingly restored five-star 18th century fairytale stone tower is perfect. With five rooms on five floors, all connected by a hand-crafted spiral staircase, it is spell bounding and has views over the sea and local island of LIndisfarne on one side and tranquil green fields on the other. Sleeps two. From £480 for three nights www.rosscottages.co.uk
2/20 Out of the Valley, near Exeter, Devon
Sneak off to your very own secluded love nest - a beautifully made, open-plan cabin with a snugly king-size bed, shower room, loo and living area with wood burner. Rupert, the owner, is a skilful furniture designer, so expect style and chic, whilst the location could hardly be more peaceful or beautiful, with the covered veranda overlooking the pasture and river below. From £108 per night http://www.canopyandstars.co.uk/britain/england/devon/weir-mill/out-of-the-valley
3/20 Lyme Park, Cheshire
This magnificent park, which nestles on the edge of the Peak District, is the setting of the famous scene of Darcy in his wet shirt coming face to face with Elizabeth Bennett in the TV adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. The 1,300 acres of stunning moorland are grazed by medieval herds of red deer and the elegant country house boasts lavish interiors, giving you more than enough to do for a romantic day out. From £6.30 per adult http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/lyme-park/
4/20 Lainston House, Hampshire
This magnificent 17th century William & Mary country house is offering a Valentines package of an overnight stay, with a champagne and canapé reception and candlelit dinner with an eight-course tasting menu created by Head Chef Olly Rouse, plus breakfast the following morning. Nestled in 63 acres of beautiful Hampshire parkland, even the driveway has a wow factor. From £225 per person per night www.lainstonhouse.com
5/20 YHA Grinton Lodge, North Yorkshire
It might sound a bit on the frugal side to be whisking your partner off for a romantic weekend at a youth hostel, but the Youth Hostel Association has some wonderful “Poshtels” offering private ensuite bedrooms in some fabulous locations. This one, in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales, has held weddings and even has an impressive honeymoon suite, which anyone can book. From £49 per night www.yha.org.uk/hostel/grinton-lodge
6/20 The Cottage, Longnor, Peak District National Park
This romantic one-bedroom cottage was once the Old Bakery for the village and dates back to the 1700s. The exposed beams and stone flagged floor are just a couple of the features that make it such a joy to stay in and the location is ideal for exploring all the Peak District has to offer. At the end of the day, snuggle up by the log burner in this charming, cosy and characterful home. From £39 per night http://www.holidaylettings.co.uk/rentals/longnor/331170
7/20 The City of Bath
The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Bath is renowned as a romantic city, thanks to its beautiful Georgian architecture, stunning scenery, luxurious accommodation and top notch restaurants. In fact, the streets and Assembly Rooms feature in a good few of Jane Austen’s novels, notably the budding romance between Catherine Morley and Henry Tilney in Northanger Abbey. http://visitbath.co.uk/
8/20 Hotel Portmeirion, Gwynedd
Made famous as the set of the cult 1960s TV series The Prisoner, the picturesque tourist village of Portmeirion also boasts this romantic four star hotel with magnificent lake views, fine dining and 19 miles of footpaths, which are ideal for lovers’ strolls. Their Valentine package includes candlelit dinner, bed and breakfast, as well as a half bottle of pink champagne in your room on arrival. From £194 per night www.portmeirion-village.com
9/20 Asphodel Cottage, Cotswolds
Thatched cottages don’t get more quintessentially English than this 17th century chocolate-box country home in Tarlton, near Cirencester. With low-beamed ceilings, an inglenook fireplace, big velvet sofas, free-standing bath and chic decor, this one-bedrood home is the perfect romantic bolthole. The Cotswolds’ rolling hills, meandering streams and country inns are the icing on the cake. From £80 per night http://www.coolstays.com/property/asphodel-cottage/16752
10/20 Jewellery Quarter, Birmingham
This up and coming area of Birmingham is the UK’s number one destination for wedding and engagement rings and where 40 per cent of Britain’s jewellery is crafted, making it the perfect day out for adoring couples. With more than 100 shops, you won’t be short of window shopping opportunities and you can even design your own handmade jewellery. It’s a vibrant area that’s steeped in history and has plenty of lovely eateries. You’ll probably have time for a visit to a gallery or museum too. www.jewelleryquarter.net
11/20 The Ampersand, London
With glorious oversized velvet bedheads, seemingly endless pillows and rolltop baths in some of the rooms, this award-winning boutique hotel is as romantic as it gets on the London hotel scene. We love the quirky Mediterranean-themed restaurant too. This year, guests are invited to personalise their pillows for the ultimate romantic stay. Can’t afford to stay the night? Why not try their scrumptious Valentines Day Afternoon Tea. Valentines Afternoon Tea £32.50 per person; rooms from £192 per night www.ampersandhotel.com
12/20 Karlotta, Scottish Borders
Karlotta is a Gypsy caravan with a bold and elegant Moroccan-influenced decor that makes it unique, fascinating and exotic. As if that isn’t romantic enough, it’s located in a wildflower meadow just below the Eildon Hills, with its very own lochan and jetty. At night, listen to the owls and in the morning, watch the deer. From £95 per night http://www.canopyandstars.co.uk/britain/scotland/scottish-borders/roulotte-retreat/karlotta
13/20 The Forge, near Hay-on-Wye, Herefordshire
Originally the blacksmith’s workshop for the 10 carriage horses that were housed in the stables of this 800 acre estate, this open fronted stone barn has been stylishly converted into a light and airy living space with huge main bedroom. Nice touches include the Swedish woodburner, open plan layout, rolltop bath in the bedroom and pretty terrace. The owners throw in a romantic basket of goodies including a bottle of the estate’s famous British Cassis and a bottle of fizz to make a Kir Royale. From £400 for three nights http://www.whiteheronproperties.com/property/forge
14/20 Warwick Castle, Warwick
This is one of the most impressive medieval castles in the UK. It’s pretty much straight out of a fairytale book, with its towers and turrets, knights in shining armour and romantic grounds. No wonder it has been voted the UK’s hottest place for a date. And because there’s so much to it, there’s easily enough for lovebirds to fill a whole day. From £14.40 per person www.warwick-castle.co.uk
15/20 The Gunton Arms, Thorpe Market, Norfolk
This beautifully restored traditional pub with eight bedrooms overlooks 1,000 acres of stunning parkland. The chef Stuart Tattersall, who was the ex head chef at Mark Hix, cooks top-notch food using local ingredients including venison from the surrounding deer park. Visitors rave about the art stacked walls, the baying dear, warm and cultured atmosphere, staff, roll topped baths and horse hair soggy sofas. From £95 per night theguntonarms.co.uk
16/20 The City of Brighton
Brighton is the original home to the dirty weekend, with saucy seaside packages now having become an artform. Even condoms can be ordered on room service in this location that has been voted Brtitain’s flirtiest city. Stay at Hotel Una in the room with a private sauna and whirlpool bath or room 6 at Snooze, which has been decadently styled with risqué Victorian photos. There are plenty of budget options too. http://www.visitbrighton.com
BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images
17/20 Laura Ashley The Belsfield, Bowness-on-Windermere, Lake District
Set in a spectacular location overlooking majestic Lake Windermere, this boutique Victorian hotel has been innovatively restored (including a stunning glass covered reception) by one of Britain’s best-loved brands, Laura Ashley. There are 62 individually designed rooms and suites and the Valentines package includes a two-night stay, with dinner (in both restaurants), bed and breakfast, plus flowers, chocolates and wine. From £425 per night for Valentines package www.lauraashleyhotels.com/thebelsfield/
18/20 Cliveden House, Berkshire
This is one of the most romantic destinations in the country. Explore the beautifully tended National Trust gardens with their secret walkways, book a Valentine’s lunch or dinner in the fabulous André Garrett Restaurant, enjoy a chocolate afternoon tea or a romantic spa day. Or push the boat out and book up the “Romance Package.” This overnight stay includes rose petals and candles in your luxury room, champers, chocolate dipped strawberries and a dozen red roses. Garden and woodlands from £9.50; afternoon tea from £50; spa day from £125; Romance package from £285 per person per night www.clivedenhouse.co.uk
After a windswept spot for romantic walks? This county has more Blue Flag Beaches and Seaside Awards than anywhere in the United Kingdom, with options ranging from the dunes at Poppit Sands to the two-mile beach at Newgale. As you head away from the coast, footpaths and bridleway unfold to lead you up hills, through ancient woodlands and down into secluded valleys. http://www.visitpembrokeshire.com/
20/20 The Montagu Arms Hotel, New Forest
This 22-bedroomed, traditional 17th century country house hotel is packed with English character and charm and it’s located in the scenic New Forest National Park. But the real treat is the Michelin star Terrace restaurant, whose six course tasting menu is included (along with wine pairing) in the Valentine’s Package along with two nights’ accommodation and breakfast each morning. Or why not visit for Valentine’s lunch or dinner in their more casual and rustic (but still special) Monty’s Inn? Valentines Package £302.50 per person www.montaguarmshotel.co.uk
Across Asia, warnings are being issued about not embracing Western culture (or your hot neighbour). In Thailand, where teenagers like to lose their virginity on 14 February, the government is urging young people to visit temples rather than try horizontal jogging. The Malaysian Islamic Development Department has called the feast day “a colonisation of the mind” and sends out volunteers to approach young Muslim Malays, to caution them against celebrating St Val’s because it gives rise to “alcohol, abortion and baby-dumping”.
In India a Hindu nationalist group threatens to force marriage on anyone caught kissing in public or smooching on social media. “Display of love in the entire Valentine’s week is equivalent to not following Indian traditions,” thundered its leader. “Anyone found displaying love on Facebook, Twitter or WhatsApp will be caught hold of.”
Blimey. Restaurants might not be so booked up tomorrow night after all.
Driverless cars only change the game if you enjoy feeling like a hapless baby
Try as I might, I cannot see the attraction of driverless cars. This week the Government launched four trial schemes in Greenwich, Coventry, Bristol and Milton Keynes at a cost of £19m. “Driverless vehicle technology has the potential to be a real game changer on the UK’s roads,” promised the transport minister Claire Perry, “altering the face of motoring in the most fundamental of ways and delivering major benefits for road safety”.
Well, up to a point, Lord Copper. Driverless cars might prove a boon to over-the-limit drivers, or those with failing eyesight or extreme fatigue, but the most “fundamental” thing about motoring is the interaction between the sophisticated machine and the person at the controls. Having the machine do everything for you, prompted and guided by supposedly foolproof sensors, cameras and “lidars”, will leave the once-proud driver feel like a hapless baby, ferried about by powers beyond his control.
There’s one important consideration Ms Perry didn’t mention. Professor Stephen Glaister, head of the RAC Foundation, put it like this: “Alongside the hi-tech innovation you need policy decisions on long-term, low-tech matters such as who takes responsibility if things go wrong.” In other words, whose fault is it when a driverless car crashes into a driven one? Will the manufacturers claim the driverless one is infallible because its sensors and radar can’t go wrong? And what happens when two of them crash into each other? The only “game changer” I can predict is in the battles between insurance companies.
I love innovation but sometimes I wonder how long it will take consumers to return to their old ways. The news that sales of Ordnance Survey maps are rising for the first time in five years delights me because it means motorists have realised how they’ve relied overmuch on satnavs that leave them stranded in the middle of Norfolk when they’re heading for Northampton. I suspect early adoptors of driverless cars may find themselves travelling a similarly retrogressive road in much less than five years.Reuse content