Editor-At-Large: Divorce British-style is a messy business

As the circus that is the McCartney-Mills break-up continues, it's almost worth wishing for the simpler, sharia version
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The Independent Online

The Archbishop of Canterbury caused outrage with his speech about sharia, but after another day of the circus surrounding the McCartney-Mills divorce – now set to run for another week – I can see a lot of pluses in the Muslim way of divorce. Granted, it's completely unfair on women if only the husband is entitled to say "I divorce you" three times and that's it, but I'm sure our legal system could rectify that. The alternative, which is to spend day after day making a spectacle of yourself in court, aided by lawyers at £500 an hour, is repulsive in the extreme.

I sympathise with Paul McCartney – the idea that Heather Mills wants compensating for a career she's somehow been denied because of the hatred she's attracted by her marriage is risible. What career, exactly? Earning money by posing half-naked and starring in sex videos?

Heather the martyr is as ludicrous as Heather the social worker and helper of the needy. The single person who needs her unconditional love is her small daughter, and yet Heather has allowed her behaviour in public to deteriorate to the point where she seems quite unhinged. The atmosphere surrounding the daughter must be toxic – not a great environment for a small child.

Another high-profile marriage ended in the divorce court last week when Susan Crossley (the former Mrs Sangster) – who has amassed more than £18m from four wealthy husbands – abandoned her attempt to have a judge declare the prenuptial agreement she signed before the last marriage invalid. Susan Crossley had whinged that she didn't realise her husband-to-be had cannily salted away tens of millions of pounds in offshore accounts he forgot to tell her about. The marriage lasted only 14 months!

I've been divorced four times, so I'm a bit of an expert, and lawyers make the process more painful and expensive than it should be. My divorces have never involved children, and marriage was a stupid mistake, but it still took months and months to end, because of the ridiculous law which requires you to have been married for a whole year before you can start divorce proceedings. If only I could have just said "I divorce you" three times and never seen the irritating man again!

No wonder the number of people living together in this country is larger than the number getting married. And why end a marriage, anyway, if you can work out a way to stay together in a civilised way until the children finish school?

Tilda Swinton seems to have the answer. The beautiful actress picked up a Bafta last weekend in a stunning gold Dior dress, but immediately had her unconventional marital arrangements thrust under the spotlight by a tabloid newspaper. Ms Swinton, 47, is married to the painter and writer John Byrne, 20 years her senior and the father of her 10-year-old twins.

For the past three years, however, Tilda has been accompanied by a 29-year-old artist, Sandro Kopp. Her career has gone from strength to strength since she starred in nine Derek Jarman films in the 1980s and early 1990s (a season dedicated to his work is on More4). She works non-stop and soon starts filming with Jim Jarmusch. Mr Byrne says "they are the best of chums", a relationship that Paul and Heather seem unlikely to emulate, even for the sake of their daughter.

The British way of divorce is thoroughly uncivilised – who needs it?

Face it, Madge, you can't do everything

The fact that Madonna's first outing as a film director has been savaged by the critics won't really make much difference to the Queen of Pop's masterplan to become the Leonardo da Vinci of our age.

Is there any skill this highly driven woman will admit she can't acquire? Whereas you or I might start yoga and abandon it, give up on Spanish lessons and let the lettuce on our allotment go to seed, not Madonna – the ultimate psychic vampire, who cleverly pinches ideas and now careers and makes them her own.

She's stayed at the top of the music business by turning her live shows into a spectacle where the actual music takes second place; a brilliant performer with an extraordinary commitment to perfection who has paid millions for the house next door to her London home in order to turn it into a gym. Having received brickbats for acting on the stage and in a succession of movies, she ruined her husband's career by starring in his derisory remake of 'Swept Away'.

She obviously thought she could do better, and couldn't resist writing, executive producing and directing a feature film called 'Filth and Wisdom', unveiled at the Berlin Film Festival last week. Madonna doesn't read reviews, which is probably a good thing, but isn't there a friend capable of suggesting there might be some talents she just can't pick up by osmosis? For all I know, we could be hearing about Madge, landscape gardener, next. Or maybe she's going to step into Steven Spielberg's shoes and sort out the Olympics.

I'm a great believer in positive thinking, but sometimes you have to accept that you can't do everything. Barbra Streisand made the same mistake with her highly self-indulgent 'Yentl'. Perhaps I should send Madonna the DVD.

Too quick to blame, too slow to change

Throughout the furore about underage drinking, no one shoulders the blame. Shopkeepers blame older teenagers who buy booze for kids outside. Newspapers blame supermarkets for selling beer cheaper than mineral water. Local residents blame parents who don't care what their offspring are getting up to in the evenings.

The police don't have any answers as the law makes it very difficult to detain children, but Ken Jones, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, reckons that up to half of underage children with access to booze have been given it by their parents.

We blame politicians for introducing longer licensing hours. Drinks manufacturers are blamed for advertising on internet sites such as Bebo and MySpace, which are highly popular with the young.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith plans to introduce £1,000 fines for parents who give their children booze – legislation that is going to be impossible to enforce, as are existing laws relating to selling drink to minors. Only 85 youngsters under 18 were taken to court, fined or cautioned for buying alcohol in 2006.

The French might have one possible solution – in Rennes, Brittany, the council, fed up with drunken students on the city streets, has decided to buy up bars. Two have been closed and reopened as a DVD shop and a restaurant.

Could work a treat here.

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