The romance in a man's soul

There were a lot of puzzled, scared, harrassed-looking people in the supermarket this evening.

And every one of them was a man.

Most were office workers with their ties in their pockets and their collars loosened, red-faced and unsure of themselves as they shied away from the screaming children, ignored the muttering old ladies and got lost among the household cleaning products.

Others wore street clothes and bought cheaper goods, but their manner showed they were spiritual cousins to their middle-class counterparts.

All of them looked as if they were making their first solo foray into hostile territory – alone, without their wives or girlfriends to guide, lead and protect them.

And here's the thing: they were all buying pretty much the same items.

They each had a basket or small trolley lined with a thin layer of basic household goods – stuff even the densest, most self-absorbed man knows is needed. Bread, for example – can't go wrong with bread, everyone needs that. Not cheese, though – too many types to choose from. But definitely bacon – very important, bacon. And some kind of breakfast cereal – sugar-coated, of course.

Not a great deal of stuff – nothing expensive – just enough to act as camoflage, to say 'I just stopped by to pick up a few things while I was passing, didn't make a special visit or anything, no, absolutely not'.

And sticking out of the basket at an uncomfortable angle, too long to sit in it properly, as if it fell in there by accident, a bunch of flowers. Or, wedged in sideways like an afterthought, a garish red box of chocolates.

Because every man knows that what a lady really wants on Valentine's Day is a bunch of pink supermarket carnations with the price tag half peeled off, and a box of own-label mock-Belgian soft centres, delivered at 7.30pm with a hopeful 'now can I have a shag please' smile.

What was I doing there, you ask? Well, I was just passing on my way home. I bought a few things we were short of, like bread. Teabags. Breakfast cereal. Oh, and a bottle of wine and the ingredients for a slap-up Italian meal.

Valentine's Day, hey? Don't you just love it?

In recognition of it, here's a toast to wives and sweethearts – and may they never meet.