Cinemas are reporting a curious phenomenon. Tickets for February 14 screenings of Fifty Shades of Grey - based on the novel that sold 100 million copies in 50 languages and made Dan Brown's prose style look like Henry James - are being block-booked by groups of women. Cinemagoers rarely plan this far ahead, apparently, but audiences for the movie's opening weekend are currently at 80 per cent female and selling out fast. The fact that Turner Prize nominee Sam Taylor-Johnson has directed the film may make it more interesting than a straightforward serving of porn. That said, a really bad version of a really bad book might prove still more entertaining.
All this is good news for the nation's romantically active, in that the most ghastly night of the year can be considered sewn up. The women of Britain can head to the flicks and indulge in a sexual/satirical love-in with Jamie Dornan (who plays Christian Grey) and his six pack. Meanwhile, their menfolk can stay at home with a book - an actual book, as opposed to an E L James-style "book" - or Match of the Day. For once, the lobster special at so many Luigi's around the country will go unconsumed, sundry tat will be left on shop shelves, and hawkers of single red roses will be thwarted.
And face will be saved, dignity preserved, wallets left unsullied. For, like all sane individuals, I have long despised this most Hallmark of holidays. From the age of 11, when a drooling, acne-pockmarked bruiser presented me with a card and the demand: "What are you going to do about it?" (''Er, nothing? How does nothing work for you?''), I knew it as a date to fear. As New Year's Eve is the occasion for people with no social lives to socialise, so Valentine's is the night for people without sex lives to pretend to have them. The vampires on the cult classic series Buffy the Vampire Slayer refused to have any truck with Hallowe'en because it was "for amateurs"; the analogy with V Day is clear.
This righteous distaste does not, of course, prevent Valentine's Day being big business for legions of the globe's most tawdry enterprises. Chaps are believed to collectively shell out somewhere in excess of pounds 600 million, the fair sex around pounds 350 million. The average (average!) person's outlay is said to be in the region of pounds 120, frittered away on price-inflated flowers, scent, chocolates, frothy lingerie and champagne teas, in addition to the contemporary platitudes that are "staycations", spa treatments, candles, confetti and declarative banners (these latter delights apparently especially au courant in Essex and Birmingham).
Restaurants rely on V-Day trade to make up for the drought that is Dry (and broke) January. Gordon Ramsay regularly harangued failing eateries on his television show with the news that, if they couldn't make Valentine's Day and Mothering Sunday rewarding, they did not deserve to be in business. And the 14th is, without question, the most mortifying night of the year on which to dine out: tables lined up in Noah's Ark-style two?by-two formation, smarm oozily on tap, everybody's buttocks clenching.
While recessionary angst held sway, supermarket meal deals (dread phrase) - ''Dine in for two'' - took hold, promising the delights of smoked salmon parcels and Belgian chocolate pots, washed down by the ubiquitous prosecco. Today, the lemming-like rush to any establishment offering food and subdued lighting has been restored by the popularity of restaurant vouchers (although presumably this makes demands upon amorous etiquette: "You powder your nose, my sweet, while I start the haggling").
As for securing a table: good luck with that. Back on January 1, a foreign friend endeavoured to book dinner for five on what he considered to be some long-off Saturday, only to be laughed off the phone by every eaterie in town. His guests are being forced to settle for room service and the mini-bar.
Personally speaking, for the first time since before the Great War, I have someone in my life who deems himself my "boyfriend", rather than lover, or sometime partner-in-crime. A week ago, I broke out in a sweat with the realisation that mawkishness would soon be upon us. Hysterical with panic, I booked us into a Katharine Hepburn movie (The Philadelphia Story, if you must know) on Friday 13 - a far more appropriate date on which to explore realms of the heart, when we can venture forth without fear of being tarred by the Valentine's (bog) brush. Plus we will get to wake up together on the day itself, which strikes me as far more to the point.
For everyone else, however, can I suggest that the classiest thing to do will be ostensibly the least classy: play Valentine's at its own grotesque game and binge on Fifty Shades. Embrace it, revel in it, rope yourself to your blindfolded girlfriends in the queue, while administering playful bottom slaps. And give an OBE to Ms Taylor-Johnson for providing this great national get-out clause.