February 7, 2014 6:13 pm

When love is off the rails

‘I always find that a very romantic place for dinner à deux is at a railway station with its history of encounters and separations’

David Tang, entrepreneur and founder of ICorrect, offers advice on questions about property, interiors – and modern manners for globetrotters

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What is the most stylish way in which to celebrate St Valentine’s day? Are there any no-nos that must be avoided?

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David Tang

A table at a dark bistro, with a candlelit dinner on checkered tablecloth in red and white, served by a French waiter speaking in accented English has to be a no-no. For a thoroughbred romantic dinner, it must depend on cerebral activities and preferably a surprise, for romance is all in the mind and not to be conflated with sentimentality which requires some material reminder.

I always find that a very romantic place for dinner à deux is at a railway station with its history of encounters and separations – that vast receptacle of human emotions across a spectrum of intensities, whispered or touched, lachrymose or in laughter. The food and drinks are really cameo to the occasion because when we are in love, we are not sustained by bodily appetite.

Once on Valentine’s day at King’s Cross, I got a couple of Cornish pasties and cans of Diet Coke and ate them together with my future wife on a bench watching all the passers-by as if they were the players from Shakespeare’s stage of the seven ages. We would try to identify the lover, “sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad made to his mistress’ eyebrow”. And for moments of lesser erudition, we would play the game of “lookalike” and pick out strangers who resemble people we know, which never failed to generate laughter.

The film Brief Encounter is not a bundle of laughs but one which oozes sadness and that plague of unrequited love, yet it defines, with a little help from Rachmaninov’s second piano concerto pounding in the background, the potency of a railway station as a backdrop to a romantic interlude.

Another good Valentine’s day venue in London would be anywhere that has a view of the Tower of London, for it was here that the Duke of Orléans, imprisoned after the Battle of Agincourt, wrote perhaps the first documented Valentine’s message – to his wife. He began in a whining poem: “I am already sick of love, My very gentle Valentine . . .” You can then impress your beloved with this moving tale, pointing to the Tower. If I were Jude Law, I would do this as he is playing Henry V and could boast that it was he who was arguably responsible for initiating the Valentine practice from one of his prisoners.

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Is it acceptable to send Valentine’s cards to one’s pets?

For pet lovers, yes, as long as we make believe that our pets would appreciate them. I once wrote out a few cards for our three dogs and bird, posted them to our home, received them on their behalf and placed them near where they slept. The following morning I found one card inside our cockatoo’s cage chewed up and spat out, and another used as a pit-stop mat for our Jack Russell puppy.

I remember trying to convince myself that these animal reactions must not be interpreted in human terms – imagine if overnight my wife chewed up and spat out my Valentine’s card! I haven’t really bothered to send another batch of cards to my pets, if only for fear of confronting ingratitude.

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Is a bar acceptable in a home? It is almost ubiquitous in America, but there seems to be rise of their existence in England, especially in London where expensive flats are installing them as if it is de rigueur .

Dreadful. A bar is commercial and having one at home would be equivalent to having a lectern with a reservation book by the door of the dining room. The only thing I would do to a bar is to bar it. But new monies love it because they consider it conducive to “mates” having easy conversations around it. They might be forgiven for replicating what they see in Hollywood movies in which the bar is seen to be abundant in American homes, but it looks right only because it is in a movie!

What is wrong with a simple silver tray on which are found just a few choice bottles and glasses, instead of the vulgarity of a full complement of drinks and dangling inverted glasses reminiscent of a pub? The answer is nothing, and considerably less crass.

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Note from Ed: My heart goes out to Lady T – might FT readers have some alternative suggestions to King’s Cross, the draughty gateway to places like Doncaster, for this year’s celebration?

Email questions to david.tang@ft.com

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Letter in response to this column:

Luncheon for Lady Tang / From Mr Christopher Bellew

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