Monday, 13 February 2012

A Bradford Valentine's Day....

... Valentinus was a Roman priest martyred during the reign of Claudius the Goth [Claudius II]. Since he was caught marrying Christian couples and aiding any Christians who were being persecuted under Emperor Claudius in Rome [when helping them was considered a crime], Valentinus was arrested and imprisoned. Claudius took a liking to this prisoner -- until Valentinus made a strategic error: he tried to convert the Emperor -- whereupon this priest was condemned to death. He was beaten with clubs and stoned; when that didn't do it, he was beheaded outside the Flaminian Gate [circa 269].

So died the patron of bee-keepers and, as we know so well, the inspiration for so many naff (and anonymous) greeting cards – St Valentine, patron of young lovers.

So today, in the spirit of such Christian virtue I am queueing at the little flower kiosk outside the Kirkgate Centre in Bradford. In my hand I am clutching three small bunches of tulips – conscious of the dilemma of Valentine’s Day. If you fail to buy flowers your name is mud, you are lower than the slimiest of slithering creatures but when you splash out on a grand bunch you’re told how this is an extravagance since florists inflate their prices to cash in on England’s lovelorn male populace.

Before me in the queue loiter an assortment of slightly nervous looking young Asian men – carefully ordering fine bunches of expensive flowers. Bunches enhanced with glitter, sprays of coloured sticks and curious golden shapes made from bent wire. St Valentine may have been a Christian martyr but it’s pretty clear that Bradford’s Muslim youth have embraced his festival with gusto!

And like so much about our culture that was Christian but is now secular, St Valentine’s Day – now most often said without the ‘saint’ part – has celebrated its divorce from the church by growing in importance.  It’s a time when we celebrate love in all its forms – from the simple, honest sexual attraction that might be encouraging those Asian lads I saw queueing today, to remembering how love changes from that passionate immediacy to the point where imagining being without that lover is impossible.

Again I find myself reminded – by the simple acts of Bradford’s young Asians – that they’re part of our culture now. We say they don’t integrate and we are wrong – watching those young men today told me that our indulgent, once Christian, festival of love means just the same to them as it does to young white men in our City. And for that matter to this greying blogger.