In this heartwarming and honest Valentine's special, our Programme Coordinator Gilli shares her journey of love throughout the years; in all its forms.
As a child growing up in the 60s, with parents whose own childhood had been largely defined by rationing during the Second World War, I knew well enough that if I wanted materials for the various craft projects I liked to undertake (frequently, but not always, inspired by Blue Peter) I would need to scavenge and improvise. It was lucky therefore that Valentine’s Day came after Christmas which gave me the chance to collect the shiny wrappers off the Quality Street and Roses chocolates and stash them away for Project Valentine’s Card.
Alan was the object of my affection. He sat at the desk in front of me in the first year at junior school and the back of his blonde head was my daily vision. To my knowledge he never showed the slightest interest in me, but as I still had a lot to learn at that stage in my life about unrequited love, it made no difference to my enthusiasm. I made the card: a heart covered in a mosaic of sweet wrappers and wrote a suitably enigmatic message inside, “To the one I love” and slipped it on to his desk when he wasn’t looking. I think he was embarrassed.
I repeated the act the following year even though I’d certainly received no encouragement to do so. I liked making the card; smoothing out the slips of silvery foil and coloured cellophane and I liked anything that involved gluing stuff. Alan was the recipient of my zealous love of craft projects mixed with rather romantic notions acquired through fairy tales, Disney films and a great appetite for “make believe”. We were not destined for more.
There have been no more attempts at home made Valentine’s cards but I’ve been falling in and out of love all my life. From schoolgirl crushes and angst–ridden teen love to the joys of long-term partnerships and the pain of breakup, from brief encounters with beautiful strangers to the joys of marriage that produced two beautiful daughters but ended in divorce.
My love life has been a mosaic of experiences spanning six decades, numerous disasters and several continents.
Some years there were cards, even flowers and the occasional “romantic” meal on the 14th of February. With the age of the mobile phone came text messages, usually badly composed rhymes expressing romantic thoughts, that were intended to reduce the hundreds of miles that separated us.
It’s been several years now since I experienced “being in love” or had a significant other who might inspire me to create a Valentine’s card, but I love and am loved in return by a disparate group of individuals of varying ages, experiences, nationalities and gender orientation.
Thankfully there is a perfect expression in Italian that allows me to express this non sensual yet tender emotion:
“Ti voglio bene”, literally “I want your good”.
It is without the implications of sexual attraction or physical desire and yet is filled with sweetness.
At 61 I don’t know if there will be more grand passion in my life; I find the prospect exciting; it would be a new adventure. However, I think my well-being and sense of connectedness as I grow older lies in continuing to reach out and make friendships, and to widen the circle of people to whom I can say “I want your good”.
Written by Gilli Cliff, Programme Coordinator