Friday, March 1, 2024
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HomeEducation / CultureValentine and the cow hug day

Valentine and the cow hug day

By Tony Deyal

If my Uncle Jacket had a big stone in his hand, or my father a shotgun, they would have destroyed both the radio and the BBC when it announced that people everywhere were celebrating Valentine’s Day. They were in the rum shop and the radio was on. Uncle Jacket was a cricket fan and he was angry.

“You see how bad this country get? We fight together against the Germans and as soon as the war finish we fighting one another!” I had no idea what he was talking about but I had never seen Uncle Jacket so angry. Even my father, who after a few drinks liked to sing and dance to “Indian” songs, was annoyed. “How dey could do that to Ramadhin?” he asked.

“Sonny is the one who break open the England batting and they give Valentine a day and they didn’t give we one for Ramadhin! What dey have against we?” I understood the anger because they always boasted that Ramadhin was someone who had worked in the cane-fields with them. I had also heard many times from them the story about Ramadhin in England. When offered a drink of rum, he replied, “Ah dozen drink.” And then the bartender came back and asked Sonny if he wanted cigarettes. His response was, “Ah dozen smoke.” So the bartender returned with twelve of each.

What I found out long afterwards was that the radio announcement had nothing to do with Alf Valentine, the cricketer, but the celebration of St Valentine’s Day which started in Ancient Rome in 496 AD. It then became associated in Britain with romantic love. In 1382, Geoffrey Chaucer in his “Parliament of Fowls” celebrated the engagement of the 15-year-old King, Richard 11, to Anne of Bohemia with a poem. He wrote, “For this was on St Valentine’s Day when every bird (fowl) cometh to choose his mate.” Shakespeare took it up in 1601 with Ophelia (in Hamlet) lamenting, “Tomorrow is Saint Valentine’s day. All in the morning betime, And I am a maid at your window, to be your Valentine.”

It took a while before I got hooked, tied and shackled into the Valentine web which is spun, not by the bowler, but by grifters, grafters, shopkeepers and merchandisers. What eventually pushed me through the trap door was that on Valentine’s Day it takes at least two to tango. It is the single men who suffer most. While couples celebrate Valentine’s Day in a big way, the standalones have to settle for Palm Sunday. It is like the question, “What does a passionate kiss and a spider have in common?” They both lead to the undoing of the fly.

Or, as the Indian government and authorities mistakenly hoped, it could lead to the rebranding of Valentine’s Day to “Cow Hug Day”. The declaration had come in a statement from the Animal Welfare Board of India which called cows the “backbone of Indian culture and rural economy.” For centuries, Indians considered the cow to be a sacred and divine animal. CNN reported, “So revered are the animals that authorities had planned to rebrand this Valentine’s Day as ‘Cow Hug Day’, hoping the move would both boost citizens’ ‘emotional richness’ and strike a blow for local heritage over what is seen as a western cultural import.”

The idea turned out to be cattle fodder for the masses since it prompted a flood of internet memes, cartoons and jokes by TV hosts about the importance of consent. For weeks the government’s plan was mocked and ridiculed with satirical cartoons showing cows running away from amorous men, while internet users had fun with videos of violent encounters between beasts and men. We in Trinidad would have settled the issue very simply and quickly by telling the Government, “All youh talking bull.”

For me, I don’t beef about Valentine’s Day. I have more fish to fry and lots of chips to eat. In 1997 the British “Mirror” newspaper claimed that Tyrells, the British potato crisp manufacturer, had launched a product which was able to have a “provocative” effect on the body. Tyrells claimed that its combination of honey “tinkering with hormone levels” and chilli “triggering nerve endings on the tongue” could get pulses racing, most likely from Valentine’s Day straight into the Trinidad and other Caribbean Carnivals. It will be the bond of the year.

While most men have rising hopes as Valentine’s Day gets increasingly closer, wives have escalating expectations. If you fail them by forgetting what day it is and what it means to them, you will inevitably end up in the doghouse and face a “withdrawal of enthusiasm” week. Nothing is incumbent upon women for Valentine’s Day, or even recumbent. They don’t have to do anything and if you are a man, don’t expect anything. If you want peace and quiet, or even piece and quiet, you must bear gifts. In such a situation nothing succeeds like excess.  If any of you male readers think I am exaggerating, all you have to do is eschew the extravagance when Valentine’s day comes next year. You will be chewed and spitted out and your hopes and the flowers are not the only things that will wilt.

Women also get very tribal around Valentine’s Day and provide solid support to one another to ensure that husbands and boy-friends remember and do the right thing or the writhing or even the writing associated with cards and cheques. One man was almost thrown out by the salesgirl in a stationery store. She gushed, “You’ll like this card. It has lovely words. It says, ‘To the only girl I ever loved’.” He made the mistake of saying, “That’s really great. I’ll take a dozen.”

The Valentine’s Day story I like best is about the man who walked into a post office one February day to see a middle-aged, balding, very well-dressed gentleman standing at the counter methodically placing stamps with “Love” and other endearments on bright pink envelopes with hearts all over them. The gentleman then took out a bottle of expensive perfume and started spraying huge waves of scent on everything. His curiosity getting the better of him, the newcomer went up to the balding man and asked, “Sir, can you tell me what this is all about please?”

The man replied unhesitatingly: “I’m sending out 1,000 Valentine’s Day cards with the words ‘To The Sweetest, Most Generous, Most Lovable, Most Romantic Man on Earth’ and they are signed, ‘Guess who?’” “But why?” asked the man in bewilderment. “You don’t look like the sort of man who would have relationships with men and certainly not with so many of them.”  “Of course not,” the gentleman responded a trifle haughtily. “I’m a divorce lawyer.”

* Tony Deyal was last seen saying that instead of any expensive gifts this Valentine’s Day he will try saying it with a flower that will last until Carnival Tuesday. It is called “The-Cost-Of-Living” rose. 

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