There are three different Saint Valentines mentioned in the early martyrologies of the Catholic Church, but only the first is famous. This Valentine was a priest in Rome who refused to give up Christianity and was executed on 14 February 269AD. Legend has it that, while he was in prison awaiting execution, he became friendly with the jailer's daughter and wrote her a letter before he died signed "from your Valentine". A romantic tale indeed, although it is worth mentioning that 14 February was already designated a Roman holiday in honour of Juno, the goddess of women and marriage.
The customs associated with the modern St Valentine's Day probably have their origin in a conventional belief, dating from the Middle Ages, that 14 February - halfway through the second month of the year - is when birds begin to pair. Valentine cards were introduced in the USA in the 1800s and that marked the start of what has become a much-commercialised annual pageant.
For the hotel and restaurant industry, the date can be very lucrative, particularly when it falls at the weekend, as it does this year. Love is spared no expense, if the examples that we publish this week are anything to go by. Expensive suites, rose-petal carpets and candlelit dinners all get a mention, to say nothing of the specially installed waterbed or the 12 cherubs hired by one guest to hand out roses to his lover.
The point about these tales is that they represent what the hospitality industry does (or can do) best: meet the demands of a market. Of course, there is a financial incentive behind pleasing guests who have extraordinary requests, as they are usually prepared to pay over the odds to have their foibles indulged. But that doesn't take anything away from the entrepreneurial spirit that drives restaurateurs and hoteliers to lower the lights, prepare a special menu and pour 20 bottles of Bollinger into the bath in order to satisfy their clients.
On a similar theme, Helene Hudson proves that identifying a niche market is what drives the entrepreneur. She moved from London to Brighton and, on discovering that there weren't any decent cheese shops in the new Capital-by-the-Sea, she set up her own delicatessen and, for good measure, added a restaurant. Already, within a month of opening, a new-found market has been established.
Now, what we need is for someone to do a bit of historical research and find out who the other St Valentines were. Three Valentine's Days a year is something we could all do with.