It’s February and love is in the air! But have you ever wondered why the heart is the symbol of love, who St Valentine really was, why Cupid wears a blindfold and why a bride throws her bouquet?
Yes, love isn’t easy... and the truth about love is even more complicated, as Philip Ardagh, described by one critic as ‘one of life’s fact-finders,’ reveals in this dainty, dotty little book, written for children but with plenty of eccentric gems to keep adults amused as well.
Ardagh has written books on subjects ranging from archaeology to space flight, and has still found time to write the bestselling Eddie Dickens children’s novels, to appear at events and festivals around the world and win the Roald Dahl Funny Prize in 2009.
Here, he sets his sights on that elusive thing called love, the emotion that is ‘strong as death’ and ‘all there is to distinguish us from other animals.’
We learn why diamonds are a girl’s best friend, why we give red roses, why we wear wedding rings on the fourth finger of our left hand and why numerology is used to predict who your perfect partner will be.
Did you know that of all the songs in the world, by far the most are about love, that redheads are reputed to be the most passionate lovers and that girls used to pin yarrow plants to their dresses to catch the eye of the boy they had fallen for?
And as for February 14 itself, the custom of celebrating love dates back to the 14th century when it was believed to be the date that birds chose their partner in preparation for laying eggs and rearing their young.
But the tradition may also have been connected to the ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia, once celebrated on February 15 and observed to avert evil spirits and release health and fertility.
You can go straight to the heart of these amorous puzzles and much, much more in this quirky, questioning book which is packed with everything you ever wanted to know about love, whether that’s facts, superstitions, pure merriment or myths.
A book to cherish, carefully wrap and lovingly present – with a kiss of course – to that special one in your life.
(Macmillan, hardback, £7.99)