Christina Patterson: No sex, please - I am tired and it's Christmas

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The Independent Online

Last week an editor asked a single friend of mine when she last had sex. My friend paused to do some mental maths and then replied. "Oh dear," said the editor. "So many people lead lives of quiet desperation!"

My friend, a stunningly beautiful writer who has never lacked male attention - who has, in fact, been married several times - was lost for words. Later, she mused on the etiquette challenge. Do you thank the person offering their sympathy, however misguided? Do you nod solemnly and set your features in a mask of dignified despair? Or do you, as she was tempted to do, snort with laughter, slap your thigh and tell the other person to cheer up, love, it might not happen and it certainly hadn't to her?

In the end, she changed the subject. She knew, of course, that it was the editor, painfully divorced and miserably single, who equated happiness with sex. Not mindblowing sex with someone you adore, not sex that sets your heart and soul and what D H Lawrence would call your loins aflame, but any old sex - sex as a mark of achievement, sex as a sign of your desirability as a woman, sex as a sign that you're alive.

Sex, if my friends are anything to go by, is largely the obsession of the unhappily married. If you're free to shag whoever you want, whenever you want, then much of the time, unless you're Catherine Townsend of this parish, you can't be bothered. Give me six glasses of cava, as The Independent kindly did at its Christmas party last week, and I'll throw myself not at the fit young guy from the newsdesk, but at the chocolate fountain. This enchanted spring of molten deliciousness, set in a garland of pineapple, strawberries, profiteroles and, er, fudge, was like a cross between a YBA installation and something from the court of Sophie Coppola's Marie Antoinette. Almost as good as a pay rise, but not quite.

But then sugar's my forbidden fruit. After being diagnosed with a gluten and sugar intolerance last year - an affliction which, according to Michael Bywater's new book on middle youth, makes me a Big Baby - I've developed an anorexic's obsession with cakes and pastries, one characterised by drunken lapses. During a sleepless night last week, in which I should have been bewailing my inability to rustle up a brood of apple-cheeked children for a proper Dickensian Christmas, I was dreaming happily of Christmas pudding.

"At Christmas little children sing and merry bells jingle," wrote Wendy Cope in a poem from her wonderful collection Serious Concerns, "The cold winter air makes our hands and faces tingle/ And happy families go to church and cheerily they mingle/ And the whole business is unbelievably dreadful, if you're single." Well, it can be. And, as we know from the soaring numbers of calls to the Samaritans and Relate, it can be if you're ensconced in the whole nuclear deal, too.

At a time when the green belt is being razed to build homes for the escalating number of single households, it's surely time to update our expectations for each other - and ourselves. Not all single women spend Christmas dreaming of Colin Firth, above, in a reindeer jumper. And not all married women spend Christmas dreaming of their husband.

Personally, I'm looking forward to a Christmas as a hermit. It's my turn to do the Christmas dinner - yes, thank you, I did manage to track down a gluten-free, sugar-free Christmas pud - and I might drag myself out for Velasquez or Stoppard, or even the odd human being. Exhaustingly gregarious the rest of the year, what I crave most of all is peace and quiet. No sex, please, we're British and we're very, very tired.

Fat dog slim

It had to happen. Where the US leads, we follow, and so do our pets. Just ask Pongo, the UK's new slimmer of the year. A seven-year old dalmatian from Rochester, Pongo has just seized the crown of the national Pet Fit Club by losing 20lb. Pongo is not the author of a new book that has arrived on my desk - It's Me or the Dog: Fat Dog Slim - but the Pongo GI Diet can only be a matter of time.

I have friends who can't go on holiday, refusing to abandon even for a few days their Alzheimered, ailing mongrel. Another pays vast premiums in health insurance for her cat. As someone who spent much of her childhood accidentally killing off pets, I'm afraid it's an obsession I can't share. There was Romeo the budgie, Tina the tortoise, Conker the guinea pig and Smoky the rabbit. No dogs, which is probably just as well.

* Poor old Lord Levy may have been reduced to milking fat cats for their millions, but it really started rather well. In fact, it started in my flat. That, at least, is the conclusion I reached after reading that he was once head boy of Fleetwood primary school, which is what the building I live in was called before its post-New Labour conversion into New Loft Apartments. Perhaps it was in my bedroom that he practised the management skills he would later hone on Alvin Stardust and Chris Rea. Perhaps it was in my kitchen that he learnt the schmoozing skills that would win him money, power and the infamous honour of being tennis buddy to Tony. But while the effete Fettesian has apparently managed to deflect the interest of the dogged John Yates, Levy faces a third interview with police. A Hackney education can be an excellent thing, but it's rarely as potent as public school charm.

c.patterson@independent.co.uk

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