In the language of romance, flowers mean "I love you" and chocolates mean "I'm sorry", apparently. But in my book, flowers mean "You're stupid and I bet I can get round you really easily" and chocolates mean "Strap on a nosebag and stuff your face, fatso – why close the stable door after the horse has bolted?"
At 51, three-times married, I have about as much interest in romance as I have in ironing antimacassars, dusting doilies or stuffing lavender sachets. And it isn't just the voice of experience talking. Since I was a teenager, when I first tied the knot, I can honestly say that I was more interested in learning the offside rule than I was in being romanced – and I hate football.
Being romanced is like being seduced – it implies, no matter how many frills you put on it, that one of the people involved in an actual or potential sexual relationship is somehow reluctant and has to be "won over" to what is a pretty basic act by anyone's standards. It's like putting a crocheted crinoline lady on a toilet roll. And surely both sides should be equally keen, or it's actually quite insulting.
And it doesn't stop with marriage. Once the sort of woman who expects romance out of a man has reeled him in and landed him, what do you bet she's the sort of broad who demands that recent yucky conjugal invention "Date Night", too? On hearing that President Obama and Michelle regularly indulge in Date Nights my first thought wasn't, "Ooo, lucky her!" It was, rather, "Poor sod – on top of everything else he has to do!"
So there you are – if the Big O finally freaks out and drops the bomb on North Korea, we can probably presume that the First Lady gave him grief that morning about his choice of Date Night restaurant the evening before.
What do you bet that a lot – not all – of the very same women who demand a weekly Date Night are the very same women who never have sex with their husbands because "it takes too long", "I don't have the time" and "I'm too tired"? Well, how come you're never too tired to get trashed on rosé wine with your mates on a Friday night, go to the garden centre bright and early on a Saturday morning, spend every weekday on Mumsnet and sit through ceaseless re-runs of Sex and the City until your eyes drop out? Maybe sex wouldn't take a long time if you didn't demand the Ring Cycle equivalent of romance first? Sex – if you're doing it right – only takes 10 minutes; Date Night takes a night!
As I said in my book Not In My Name, "Women seem to believe that sex should be about sharing, talking, communication, lighting one hundred scented candles, taking an hour-long aromatherapy bath, being given a two-hour-long massage with oils that smell like someone sicked up a whole box of Milk Tray at once, kissing, cuddling, stroking... and that other thing, YOU KNOW, that's really rude and boring. And then more cuddling. Basically, a cross between an away-day to make-up shop Space NK and a playdate with Barbie. Men, the dirty swines, seem to believe that sex should be about SEX."
Ha! I also wondered what excuse women gave not to have sex before "we've run out of scented candles" became available. For romance is surely the greatest capitalist cash-cow ever invented, the gift that truly does keep on giving... to the shareholders of the companies that make scented candles, boxes of chocolates and bouquets with a three-day life-span, that is.
It's true that a bad marriage is worse than no marriage – I had two of them, eventually – but a decent marriage is far, far better than no marriage. And a lot of the reason is that you can stop acting as romantic cyphers and be yourself; people who like each other and support each other, a team. What could be more different than the romance-centric view of relationships in which it's all about being "swept away" and "the spark"? And what's more appealing?
Because compared to such clear-eyed compatibility, romance just looks like a big fat fib – not for nothing was Saki's great short story "The Romancers" about two men sitting on a park bench lying to each other. Of course I wasn't a fly on the bedroom wall when John Terry, Mark Owen, Vernon Kay, Wayne Rooney and Uncle Tom Love-Rat and all went through the smooth moves that kept their wives with them, but I would bet that flowers, chocolates, country-house hotels and the whole corny, clichéd kit and caboodle of wretched romance was dug up and put through its dreary paces – until the next time.
Ed and David: Siblings can get away with things that friends can't
I've always considered being born an only child is a sure way to get a head-start in the random race of life. Greedy, selfish and immensely fond of our own company, we Onlies make the needy, people-pleasing, tragically un-self-sufficient Lonlies look like mere fractions of people.
And the sins that are committed between siblings! I've known people whose brothers/sisters stole their lovers/made them homeless/beat them up – and felt totally certain of forgiveness. If friends did that sort of stuff to you, you'd be thought totally justified in kicking them to the kerb. If a sibling does, you're expected to be sitting down to turkey and the trimmings with them by the time the bruises have faded. That's GOT to kill something inside of you.
This being so, let's spare a thought for the Miliband boys, as they play out their own Greek/geek tragedy. With the shelves of Marks and Spencer already groaning with Yule logs, what better time for Mrs Miliband to proclaim that Christmas (and Hanukkah) is cancelled, and that everyone should do their own thing this year? Being a sibling may mean never having to say you're sorry, but surely it can only take a few mulled wines chez Miliband to transport an old-fashioned Albert Square Christmas all the way to NW Twee.
The royals: Does the Queen secretly hanker after life below stairs?
I've never been a monarchist, but I did feel a momentary shock of disappointment on hearing that the Queen has been troughing away in a manner that wouldn't disgrace an MP. Nearly £100,000 on dusting chandeliers and £14,000 on a curtain to "protect" wine bottles – what, NO duck house based on the Palace of Versailles?
For decades Windsor legend has had it that the Queen was so frugal that she saved bits of string, and went round Buck Pal at night turning off unnecessary lights. In the light of the latest revelations, it seems likely that this was less a result of a desire to save the taxpayer money than a strange sort of Marie Antoinettism. When you're as rich and grand as the Queen, even being lower-middle class must seem incredibly exotic.