Great British Bake Off contestant and renowned Cake Whisperer, Val Stones, tells us why Valentine’s Day is special to her.
Valentine’s Day is always a happy one for me. As the years have gone by, I’ve built a memory bank of happy, funny and exciting moments that I’ve never written down, so why not join me on this trip down memory lane?
Opening the door to the postwoman or man on Valentine’s Day always feels embarrassing to me — even today. The postie would always have a wisecrack at my expense, saying that I was eagerly waiting for an admirer’s card, and as a teenager they would especially make me blush.
I would sheepishly accept the pile of envelopes and reply that they weren’t Valentine’s cards but, in fact, birthday cards. I had eight aunts, ten uncles and two doting grandmas and they all sent cards. It’s hard to forget a birthday on such a memorable day!
My name is Valerie Ann, and I was born on 14th February 1950. (Now I’m sure you can quickly work out my upcoming birthday age).
My name almost wasn’t Valerie as my Mum and Dad had decided on June Ann. Three days after my birth, my Dad kissed my Mum goodbye in the maternity ward and set off to the Registry Office in Mexborough — in what was then the West Riding of Yorkshire. He arrived back at the hospital a short while after with the birth certificate and passed it to my Mum. Needless to say, she was not amused when she saw the name written on the piece of paper of her first born girl.
It seems that the registrar asked my father for the details but, when it came to the given name, June behind the desk (total coincidence) said something along the lines of “oh no, for a baby girl born on Valentine’s Day her name should be Valerie”. So, Valerie Ann it was and has remained.
My Mum got over the name change fairly swiftly much to my Dad’s relief and life went on. Well, apart from the new rule that he wasn’t allowed to pick the names of his next children.
So, Valentine’s Day really has always been special to me. Lots of cards — none of which were actually love letters. At least they weren’t, until I met my wonderful husband-to-be when he was sixteen, and I was seventeen.
I love to tell this story — the opening line always raises eyebrows.
When asked, “Where did you meet your husband?” my reply is, “we jumped out of a window together.” I know, it seems odd.
My husband was grammar school material and I was secondary modern, so we didn’t meet until sixth form college, when I transferred to study for my A-levels. As with all teenagers, I mucked about a little. One day, the teacher locked the classroom door, as a sanction, and left. I’m sure he would have returned quickly, but I wasn’t prepared to wait. I stood up and declared that as we were on the ground floor, I was going to go to lunch via the window and asked if anyone else wanted to join me? My friend, and two other boys, followed. I quite liked the look of the tall, very curly blonde one. We went our separate ways to lunch that day.
The next day, at assembly, the head teacher stood up and said, “Would the students who left their lesson through the classroom window yesterday report to my office at noon today?” Just before noon, I headed to the office and in front of me I saw the fair-haired boy. I caught up with him and said, “I’m scared.” Without turning around he continued to march towards the office and replied, “Don’t worry, I will protect you forever.”
This took me so much by surprise that the head master’s grilling was a total blur. “Blondie” and I walked back to the common room and chatted about the upcoming half term disco and he wondered if I would like to go with him. Of course, I said yes.
And so, our love began in September 1967.
My love knows I am a sucker for romantic settings, so he planned his proposal with care. On 15th June, when I was 19 and he was 18, we were on a wide sandy beach below the towering walls of Bamburgh Castle. Sitting down, he turned to me and said, “I love you and want to take care of you for the rest of our lives. Will you marry me?” I said yes.
The following weekend we went home to buy a ring and to let our parents know. We were both students and on grants, so we bought a simple diamond ring and shared the cost between us. Both of our parents were apprehensive at first as they felt we were too young and that completing our education should come first — we were finally married in 1972.
Tears sparkle in my eyes as I write this. We have known each other 57 years and although we are not the people we were when we first met, we have learned the lessons of staying together, grown to love the new person as we change, forgive, remembered that no one is perfect and that a kiss before bedtime is the way to a good night’s sleep.
Our marriage has flourished and remains strong 53 years later. Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone.