Posted in Events, Writing

Please Don’t Be My Valentine

cover of February Tetbury Advertiser

In the February edition of the

Tetbury Advertiser,

my Young By Name column homes in

on the real meaning of Valentine’s Day



As a lapsed Anglican, I’ve never had saints on my radar, apart from the obvious ones whose special days are pre-printed in our diaries – Andrew, George, Patrick, David, Valentine, etc – and the quartet after whom my old grammar school named its houses: St Anne, St Bride, St Francis and St Mary.

At primary school, our teams were distinguished only by colour: red, blue, green, yellow. On moving up to senior school, I was naturally more interested in the colour of the houses, rather than their saints’ pedigrees. In a kind of synaesthesia of the saints, for me St Bride (my house) will forever be associated with yellow, St Anne green, St Francis red, and St Mary blue.

photo of red pencil with St Bride's logo
Now that’s confused me – my souvenir pencil from St Bride’s Church*, Fleet Street, isn’t yellow

Strangely, we were never taught anything about our school’s four saints, and we never thought to ask. Nor did we query why in an all-girls’ school we had a single male, St Francis, alongside the female trio.

Top Trumps of Saints

I reckon the school management missed a trick to cement house loyalty. They could have turned the distinguishing features of each saint into a compelling game of Top Trumps:

St Francis:100 points for animal husbandry, 0 for maternal instinct.

I wish I could cite further examples, but my knowledge of even the most famous saints is slim. Just how slim I didn’t realise until doing some research for my latest novel, Murder by the Book** (out in April), which culminates in a murder on 14th February.

It turns out my perception of St Valentine was more Hallmark than historically accurate.

Apparently, asking someone to be your Valentine is nowhere near as appealing an invitation as I’d assumed.

The Fate of the Saint

Legend has it that the Romans made it illegal for marriage ceremonies to be performed for soldiers, on the assumption that having wives would sap their strength and their inclination for war. Valentine, a Christian priest, defied the ban, continuing to perform wedding ceremonies until the Romans arrested him. In jail, in what could be the earliest recorded case of Stockholm Syndrome, Valentine healed his jailer’s daughter’s blindness, after which, not surprisingly, they became friends. When led away to his final fate, he left her a note signed “From Your Valentine”.

His execution was cruelly prolonged: he was beaten and stoned before being beheaded.

So be wary of asking the object of your affections to be your Valentine – they might think you’re inviting them to a fate worse than death.

Cover of Marry in Haste
Wry humour about romantic relationships, available in paperback and ebook


*More about my visit to the wonderful St Bride’s, the journalists’ church, in this post from my archive

**Murder by the Book, the fourth Sophie Sayers Village Mystery, will be launched at the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival on Saturday 21st April. 

And if I haven’t put you right off romantic fiction, you might enjoy my collection Marry in Haste, currently on special offer at 99p/99c for the ebook, and £4.99 for the paperback.


English author of warm, witty cosy mystery novels including the popular Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries and the Gemma Lamb/St Bride's School series. Novels published by Boldwood Books, all other books by Hawkesbury Press. Represented by Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agents. Founder and director of the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival. Course tutor for Jericho Writers. UK Ambassador for the Alliance of Independent Authors. Lives and writes in her Victorian cottage in the heart of the beautiful Cotswold countryside.

6 thoughts on “Please Don’t Be My Valentine

  1. Hi Debbie, I think you went to Chislehurst and Sidcup Girls Grammar School, didn’t you? I went there too from 1961-66 and was in St Anne’s with the green badge. And how right you are – we never questioned the one male saint either! What’s more, do you remember the lettering above the stage in the hall: “IT IS REQVIRED OF A STEWARD THAT HE BE FOVND FAITHFVL”. He???
    Regards, Marion

    1. Hi Marion! Yes, you are absolutely right – except that just before I entered the school, aged 11, in 1971, it had changed its name to Beaverwood School for Girls, taking its name from Beaverwood Road. It had still been Chis & Sid when my sister joined (she was in the upper sixth when I was in the first form). It’s now gone (almost) full circle, apparently, as its current name is Chislehurst School for Girls. I don’t know why they dropped the Sidcup, unless its catchment area has changed. I lived in Sidcup, as did most of my friends there. As well as my sister attending the school, my mum and two aunts were also pupils there, and there was at least one teacher who had taught them as well as us – Miss Snook, the art teacher, who I later learned was also Barbara Snook, famed for her needlework and author of several books (one of which I snapped up in a secondhand shop in tribute to her – I was rubbish at art, but she was a kind and gentle teacher).

      My father went to the boys’ equivalent, Chislehurst and Sidcup Grammar School for Boys, which was of course in Sidcup geographically, unlike our school, which is now co-ed and has kept its name but dropped “for Boys” at the end.

      Yes, I remember that motto – honestly, what were they thinking when they chose to put that up there? Bet it was done by a man!!

      Best wishes

      1. Hi Debbie,
        Thanks for your message. Yes, I remember Miss Snook very well. She taught us embroidery and weaving as well as painting and drawing.
        Thanks also for the update on our school. I’ve just been on the current website and the school nowadays is HUGE! Sadly, our playing field has disappeared under concrete. I think I preferred it before, although I will never forget the sheer misery of double hockey, squelching through the muddy grass, freezing in a skimpy aertex shirt, doing my best to avoid that silly little ball.
        All this has prompted me to order your book “Secrets of St Bride’s” (good choice of name!). I’m really looking forward to reading it and am sure that your English teacher (Miss Quinlan, by any chance?) would be delighted that your books are doing so well.
        By the way, did you still sing the School Song in your day? It was called “Rejoice in the Lord Always”, in an unusual setting that I have never come across since. I would love to know who wrote it.
        All best wishes,

      2. Hi again Marion

        My goodness, that school song – I had forgotten it until you mentioned its name, and immediately it started playing in my head, and I could remember all the words and all the tune! Amazing what we stash away in our brains, even when we can’t remember more recent information such as where we parked our cars! (Confession: I always park in the same place at our local mall to make sure I can find it again!)

        And Miss Snook’s weaving lessons! I quite liked weaving, but it was a chore to carry those looms to and from school on the bus, especially if you had art the same day as cookery or a music lesson so had a big tin in a basket or a guitar to transport!

        Miss Quinlan was deputy head when I was there, and I was only at the school for the first three forms, and I think she must have been teaching the older girls, as she never taught me, but she was kind to me and friendly, having taught my older sister who was in the upper sixth when I entered the first form. My English teachers were young and new in the first year – Miss Browne and Mrs Mundy in the first year, and then a very jolly motherly type whose name escapes me for now.

        Such a shame about the playing field. Some of my favourite memories from my days there were of leisurely lunchtimes and breaks lazing about on the grass making daisy chains and chatting with friends about all sorts of things. I also have a vivid recollection of us trying to levitate one of my friends – we were pragmatic and chose the smallest, lightest one to experiment on!

        Thank you so much for buying “Secrets at St Bride’s”. I really hope you enjoy it. My St Bride’s books are about to be republished by my new publisher Boldwood Books – I was previously self-published – and Boldwood are giving them new titles. “Secrets” will become “Dastardly Deeds at St Bride’s” (to be published on 15th September) and “Stranger at St Bride’s” will become “Sinister Stranger at St Bride’s” (to be published on 11th October). Then in November, they will publish a completely new book, the new third in the series, “Wicked Whispers at St Bride’s”. They’re also going to reissue my Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries, most likely under the same titles, but with new covers. Exciting times!

        With best wishes

      3. Hi again, Debbie,
        I sat up late last night to finish “Secrets at St B’s”. Loved it! Have just ordered “Stranger” and can’t wait.
        And, oh my goodness, there were reminders of life at our school. All those l-o-n-g school photos in the front corridor near the Headmistress’ office. The pigeon holes at the top of the front stairs on each side, one for staff and one for pupils. And the houses, of course. Why didn’t we have St Clare instead of St Francis? Clare, after all, was Francis’ great friend in Assisi…
        Hey ho! Keep up the good work,

      4. Hi Marion

        Thank you so much, I’m so glad you enjoyed “Secrets at St Bride’s”! Perhaps I should send a copy to the current headmistress of our old school – though I suspect it may have changed beyond recognition, although still keeping the old building. I really did appreciate its architecture at the time – there was something very welcoming, reassuring and safe about that neat, tidy, square 1920s building, with its grassy quadrangle at the centre. I’d been to a primary school the same shape but single story, Days Lane School in Sidcup (which my father and his sisters had attended as children), again with a lovely spacious playing field. They may not have been posh private schools like my fictitious St Bride’s, but I still think we were very lucky.

        I agree about St Clare – I was always very glad not to be in St Francis! And I never knew that the two were friends in Assissi – I must go and read up about them now!

        With best wishes

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