Love is in the detail

Tom Mahfoud and his fiancé Alexandra Murray (supplied).

Red roses, dinner dates and fancy chocolate are on the cards for Australians across the country this week. Whether you celebrate Valentine’s Day or not, there’s always time to pause and hear the stories of the couples young and old, as Zoe Moffatt discovers.

Beneath the trickle of rain drops at the Lightscape show in Royal Botanic Gardens, Hoppers Crossing resident Tom Mahfoud, 28, knelt down on one knee.

His chosen destination, a section in the light show called The Chapel, was a big shutter light arrangement.

With clammy hands and a passerby poised with his phone to capture the moment, Tom popped the question to his partner of five years, Alexandra Murray, 26.

“I was absolutely nervous,” Tom said, reminiscing on the proposal.

“She just made a few [comments, like] it’s so nice here, look how beautiful it is. Your heart’s in your throat at that point… I was a bit clammy.”

The resounding ‘yes’ from Alexandra kicked off their engagement, and the beginning of their journey to getting married.

For Tom, he said the realisation that he wanted to marry Alexandra hit when they started to live together. This feeling grew as the years stretched on, and as their lives became entangled with two dogs.

“Everything kind of hit me in the fourth year, and I thought this is, you know, this is definitely forever,” Tom said.

“You can’t see life without them.”

For the couple, Valentine’s Day is one they look forward to and celebrate each year. Amongst their busy schedules it’s an important reminder to come together.

“There’s a lot of times we don’t get to see each other for a whole heap after work.

“So these kinds of moments, birthdays, anniversaries and Valentine’s Day are a good way for us to put aside some time for each other and just kick your feet off, enjoy and relax.”

This year’s agenda includes a trip to a new Italian restaurant nearby, a walk on the new Altona Pier, some gelato and dipping their feet in the water, if Melbourne’s weather permits.

For anyone who doesn’t have a Valentine’s Day filled with pasta, ice cream and moonlight walks, Tom said his top dating tip is communication and to trust your gut.

“If you know things are right, generally it’ll be pretty obvious and [it’s important to keep] talking and understanding what the other side wants, loves and needs.

“Find out what someone’s love language is. Finding that out pretty early on helps to build a really strong relationship and it’s definitely built our relationship pretty strong.”

Almost 100 kilometres away in Whittlesea, Norma, 96, and Ray, 98, Hislop sit down to chat about their 75 years of marriage.

They don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day, but instead talk fondly about attending weekend dances and going to the pictures.

The world was a different place more than eight decades ago when they met, but in answering my questions I notice striking similarities between the two couples.

“[It’s about] give and take, see the other person’s point of view, appreciate their value and don’t forget to tell them,” Ray said.

Meeting as young teenagers in the inner city suburb of Carlton, Norma was friends with Ray’s sister Betty, and was in church the first time she laid eyes on him.

“His sister was sitting there with me in this church and I saw him in the doorway,” Norma said. It was this friendship with his sister that brought Norma to their house most Friday nights.

“A lot of people used to come, it was a lovely friendly night.

“There was no drink or anything like that. [Someone was] playing a piano and someone singing, and then someone cooking crumpets in the kitchen.”

Norma said she lived around the corner from Ray’s house, near some mutual friends and they would walk her home each week.

“Just out of the blue one Friday, we’re getting ready to go and Ray said no, I’ll walk her home.

“I’d been thinking that this brother of Betty’s was quite nice looking and then I thought ‘oh how nice’.”

From this wholesome beginning Norma and Ray’s relationship developed over the years and the couple got engaged when Norma was 19 and Ray was 21.

“My girlfriend got engaged and I said, well, we want to get engaged [but] he wanted to wait,” Norma said.

After a two year engagement, the couple got married on January 16, 1949. Looking back on their 75 years of marriage, Norma said they are a very lucky couple.

“I mean, we are very lucky to be the age we are and look back on 75 years.

“When we look at all of the things we did, we are very very lucky to have these lovely children. Our family is so supportive and they are happily married with their wives and husbands.”

Clocking up a total of five children, 11 grandchildren and 17 great children. Norma and Ray’s life wasn’t without times of struggle.

Their fourth child died at 11 months, and in their early years together Ray spent a few years in the Air Force where they correspond via letters.

“I think we never we never aspired beyond our means. And the early days we worked together to just bring up a family and we were quite happy to plot along,” Ray said.

“I had a fairly steady job and Norma was a great housewife and anything she took on she did it properly. She didn’t muck around.”

Moving about 20 kilometres south west of Whittlesea, Epping florist Sophie Marasco who owns and operates Thanks A Bunch Florist with her daughter is getting ready for one of their busiest days in the year, along with mothers day.

“I’ve always loved gardens and flowers and putting flowers together, I love the creative side,” she said. “Valentine’s Day is easier because you know it’s predominantly red roses.

“I don’t think I’m one of the bigger [florists] and I’ve ordered about 2000 red roses, but we’ve got flowers and presents coming as well.”

Sophie said there was a long line last year and extra hands on deck to spread the Valentine’s Day love.

“There normally is about four to five of us and then we have four to five delivery drivers [for the day]. It’s a mother and daughter duo otherwise.

“Last year we ran out of flowers, it was past 6pm and there was a guy who [got the last] single flower [from the fridge].

“He said if I don’t go home with something I’m going to be in the dog house.”

With about 365 days until the next Valentine’s Day rolls around, Hobsons Bay council is here to help all the single residents out there.

There’s no doubt we’ve all been on a few rubbish dates but council is looking to flip the switch and speed dating with clean-up events throughout February. Who can say no to multitasking.