Sally Hall: Non-event Valentine’s Day has to be better than heartbreak

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I wonder how many people actually enjoyed Valentine’s Day this year.

Since the heart-shaped chocolate boxes went on sale the minute the turkey got shoved in the oven on Christmas Day, I’m sure we were all bored rigid by the time Friday 14th came around.

It’s not a big deal in our household – in fact, we marked it by watching the Game of Thrones season 4 trailer one more time. (So exciting I got hiccups and couldn’t sleep afterwards). That’s about as soppy as it gets.

But a non-event Valentine’s has to be better than a heart-breaking one – and I’ve had a few of those.

Probably the most memorable occurred when I was in my late 20s and had hit a particularly agonising crossroads in my life.

At the time I’d been with my boyfriend for almost five years, most of our relationship conducted at a ridiculous long distance (he lived in Durham, I was in Brighton).

Then the distance suddenly got even more ludicrous – he was offered a job in Vancouver, Canada. A place I’d always wanted to live.

But the question was; did he want me to go with him?

It would mean marriage and commitment. Living in the same house, after years of being 330 miles apart.

I wasn’t convinced he was really up for it. After all this time, he still hadn’t invested in a double duvet. Lifelong commitment seemed some way off.

I needed to know that he was serious about asking me to give up my life, move thousands of miles away from my family and jack in a promising career as a journalist.

So I asked him to take six weeks to think about what he really wanted.

Six weeks that happened to encompass Valentine’s Day.

As the days ticked by, I distracted myself by focusing all my energy on work – easier than I thought it would be.

For one thing, I’d just interviewed one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met.

Georgina Somerset was born in March 1923 and registered as male under the name George Turtle.

George went to boys’ schools and joined the Navy as a dental surgeon in 1944, seeing active war service before leaving the armed forces in 1948

By then, George knew there was something wrong, having never developed any secondary sexual characteristics.

Then a health check revealed George was chromosomally a hermaphrodite, with characteristics of both sexes. Hormone treatment and minor surgery enabled George to become the woman she had always felt she was inside.

At the time, such a transformation was revolutionary, making headlines across the world. Even more extraordinary, Georgina (never having experienced love) then met an aristocrat, Christopher Somerset, and married him months later in a big society wedding at Westminster Abbey.

After this fairytale ending, Georgina settled down to live happily with her husband and practise as a dentist in Hove. When I interviewed her she was charming, erudite and wise.

Funnily enough, I was reading my interview with her on February 14th when I spied an InterFlora delivery person carrying a huge bouquet of flowers across the newsroom.

‘They must be for someone else,’ I told myself. ‘They can’t possibly be for me.’

But as the bouquet moved towards me, I began to get excited.

‘He must have decided he wants me to come to Canada after all,’ I concluded. ‘Maybe it’s even a proposal!’

Ripping open the card, I couldn’t wait to see inside.

I’d already started mentally packing my bags for Vancouver.

Then….

‘Thank you so much for the sensitive article,’ it read. ‘I enjoyed talking to you very much.’

It was a heart-stopping moment. Such a kind gesture from Georgina. Yet such a disappointment at the same time.

No fairytale ending there then. My ex moved to Canada without me, and I spent the next few Valentine’s alone.

Yet when I think about this story now, I’m struck by how wonderful it was, somehow.

Sadly, Georgina died last year. She was a marvellously inspiring person, and I was very lucky to meet her. Not many people get flowers from a woman who is also a man – so it was pretty special, after all.

Sarah Champion MP

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