Jake O'Kane: I'll be romantic when I want, where I want and how I want. Got it?

I doubt I was the only Ulsterman who forgot Valentine's Day. When my wife handed me my card, I made a lame excuse about leaving hers in work. She knew I was lying, but being kind and long-suffering, gave me a bye-ball

Central Park and a man with a mouthful of Snickers – what more could a woman ask for?
Jake O'Kane

I WAS sitting at home many years ago when my then girlfriend – now my wife – reached over and handed me a birthday card and present. I looked at her, confused; surely my birthday wasn’t until the following week?

You’ve guessed it, I’d only gone and forgotten my own birthday. This would have been funny but for the fact that my wife’s birthday is the day before mine. That one cost me a romantic weekend in Paris.

I’ve never been into special days or dates. I’m the sort of man who, when asked what he wants for Christmas, replies, "Nothing, I’m fine", and then huffs for a week if he isn’t bought a present.

So I doubt I was the only Ulsterman who forgot Valentine’s Day. I know, how I managed it with the amount of nonsense surrounding it amazes even me. When my wife handed me my card on Thursday morning, I made a lame excuse about leaving hers in work. She knew I was lying, but being kind and long-suffering, gave me a bye-ball.

I did eventually get her a card, but seemingly I managed to cock that up by buying it in Lidl. Why’s that wrong? I don’t understand, a card is a card, right? I realise I’m not painting too glamorous a picture of myself, but I’m not alone; I think most men from this part of the world recoil from all this romantic nonsense.

Let’s be honest, if you see a man walking down the street in Northern Ireland carrying a bunch of flowers, you can be certain he’s going to a funeral. No, we express affection differently and this is especially noticeable between men – where it’s done with a joke or a bit of sleggin’.

Having been to Italy, I’ve seen how men there drown each other in compliments: “Ciao Giovanni, come stai? You look amazing." That would never happen in these parts – when two men meet here, the greeting invariably starts with an obscenity, followed by a derogatory comment on how each looks, finishing with, "Aye, yer ma’s yer da."

This behaviour can be somewhat disconcerting to those not from these parts. Perturbed visitors ask me why people here are so rude; I explain rude comments mean they’re liked. I confuse them further when I warn it’s when people are polite that they need worry, as that can often lead to a punch on the nose.

Having forgotten my girlfriend’s birthday, I decided in future we’d go away on city breaks to mark our joint celebration. This took us to quite a few European cities, culminating one year when I surprised her with a weekend in New York.

On the day of her birthday in the Big Apple I took us out on a forced march, taking in the sights. She said afterwards she trudged after me, whispering obscenities behind my back, as I hadn’t mentioned her birthday. We stopped in Central Park for lunch, and sitting on a bench, I chomped my way through a Snickers bar while slurping down a Diet Coke. That was my version of a diet in those days – obviously the Diet Coke cancelled out the Snickers.

Between mouthfuls, I turned and asked her, "Do you want a ring for your birthday?" Surprised, and thinking I’d just remembered it, she answered, "No, you know I don’t like rings that much." I followed up with, "I don’t mean that type of ring."

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how this north Belfast Casanova popped the question and asked his girlfriend to marry him. Not bad, eh?

I know a lot of women are tempted to tear this paper to confetti, but houl on, I thought I did well. Admittedly, I did almost blind her, spitting out bits of Snickers nuts as I proposed, but it was done in New York, on her birthday, in Central Park, and – best of all – she wasn’t expecting it. I think she’d resigned herself to being with a confirmed bachelor by that stage.

As for flowers and chocolates and cards, nah; again it might be me but I refuse to let some greetings card executive decide when and how I express my affection. I prefer to do it my own way, at a time of my own choosing.

As an example, I included this little poem in this year’s Valentines card: ‘Roses are red, violets are blue, I’ve a big nose, you’ve one too, our kids are bucked.'

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