David Bouchier

On December 31 last year, and this at least is absolutely true, the first Valentine’s cards, chocolates, and plush bears appeared in our local supermarket, 45 days before zero hour. The bears are still there, they scarcely seem to have moved, and there are plenty of cards and chocolates left if you are running late. But this greedy commercial overreach is yet another sign that Valentine’s Day is out of control. It’s been around at least since the 1800s and, like most festivals that have a long history, it has lost almost all of its original meaning.

You must be familiar with those mail order catalogs that promote devices and gadgets, designed to make your life safer and easier. In fact they make your life harder, because they create guilt and anxiety, which of course is the whole point of the sales pitch.

A good barbershop is hard to find. When a man needs a haircut he needs just that, a haircut, nothing complicated. An authentic barbershop will display a symbolic candy-striped pole outside, and will be starkly utilitarian inside. Until the last century, barbers also acted as rough-and-ready surgeons, at prices far below the current AMA rates. This history should be reflected in the plainness of the decor: it should look like an operating theater.

We all learned in school about young George Washington’s confession to his angry father, which included the famous words "I cannot tell a lie." I don’t know what children are taught these days, but it can’t be that – those words sound too strange to us in 2017. If young George had grown up in our time, even if he had cut down a whole forest of cherry trees, would never respond to the accusation with such a simple confession. He would denounce it as fake news, call an attorney, and take the case all the way to the Supreme Court.

Back in the olden days when I was a schoolboy there were many things about adults that I found mystifying. High on the list was their habit of dividing up people, ideas, activities, and just about everything else into good or bad, right or wrong, friend or enemy. Ours was a small school with only about three hundred boys, but even so we were randomly divided into four artificial groups called “Houses,” indicated by a colored border around our caps. I was in Charter House, I remember, with a green cap.