Katy Guest: Wedding couples love, honour... and bankrupt the guests

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The Independent Online

Are you already depressed by the wedding fever, the dress speculation, the Wills 'n' Kate dolls, the Mills & Boon tie-in books, the crowds of otherwise sane people waving Union flag bunting as another perfectly nice-seeming girl is led to the slaughter? Well, just be grateful that the royal couple are not expecting to be paid for getting married. Prince William and Kate Middleton have asked that anyone thinking of buying them a wedding gift should give the money to a charity instead. For 35 per cent of Britain's other engaged couples, though, cash or vouchers is what they want.

This is the news from a survey by phone and internet bank first direct, whose spokesman said: "With couples needing huge deposits to get on the housing ladder... money is the most useful gift they can ask for." The theory is that they've paid for your dinner and a disco, so in return you can collectively buy them a lovely maisonette in North Sheen. This would be insulting even if you hadn't already paid for return train fares to the venue, a hotel room for the weekend, the stag do in the Côte d'Azur, a new outfit and a spray tan. It's not that you're not incredibly happy for them; you just wish that other people's happiness didn't cost you several hundred pounds a pop.

The average age at which people get married is now over 30. Many couples by this point already have a home each, along with all of the furniture, fluffy towels, bed linen and knife blocks that go in them. Moving in together means ruthlessly downsizing possessions, however lovely it is to buy from a gift list knowing that the happy pair will think of you every time they sit down/ have a bath/ go to bed/ knife each other to death. They should be donating goods to their tragic single friends, not asking them to pay for more stuff. And, if you go to one of these pay-by-the-hour weddings, you'd better stay in for the next two years and save up for the baby shower, just in case the newlyweds hear about this new, Bugaboo pushchair that costs £1,200.

Single people listening to the news recently would be forgiven for repeating Bridget Jones's hangdog mantra that "secretly, underneath our clothes, our entire bodies are covered in scales", and hiding under the (self-purchased) bedclothes for a week. According to the Today programme on Friday, government think- tanks have suddenly figured out that being single and living alone is more expensive and considerably lonelier than living as part of a happy, committed couple, and they are all determined to do something about it. The best idea that they've thought of so far is "promoting marriage", which is a bit like realising that poor people have a lot less money than rich people do, and dealing with the problem by promoting "being rich" as a way of life.

Promoting marriage seems to involve paying even more money to married people and less to singles, as if suddenly all the stubborn lonely people will wake up and accept one of those dozens of marriage proposals from people with whom they could be deliriously happy. Either that, or they might just persuade folk to marry any old singleton who looks good on paper, and we all know what happened when Prince William's parents did that.

I'm not anti-marriage, but it's about time that we all grew up and accepted that getting married is nothing like it was when the current traditions bedded in, some time around the Middle Ages. Then, a young couple moved out of their parents' houses and into their own, as the girl was handed over to her new master and promised to honour and obey him till she dropped dead in childbirth aged about 23.

Thank goodness, it's different now. At every wedding I have ever attended, the bride and groom realised how lucky they were to have found a person with whom they could spend their lives, with all the benefits that would bring. I certainly didn't get the impression that, as they said their vows, they were secretly thinking about all the free Le Creuset oven-to-tableware heading their way.

The royal wedding will focus attention on the many reasons why people marry, and about all the ways to make it work. Call me an old romantic, but I'd suggest that cash transactions are not a firm basis for either.

Catherine shows us how to talk about mental health

The charity MDF The Bipolar Organisation ( www.mdf.org.uk) was expecting calls when I rang on Friday about Catherine Zeta-Jones, who has recently talked about her recent experience of bipolar II. It was quick to praise her for speaking out, and welcomed the chance for "informed communication".

Quite right: most of the media have been very sensible about Ms Jones's news; but words such as "desperate" and "loony" have been used in headlines, and one title said she had checked into a clinic because she was "stressed".

We have to be careful in the language we use about mental health, so I am grateful to MDF for its clarifications. Five per cent of people are thought to be on the bipolar spectrum – which in extreme forms involves mood swings so severe that they impair the ability to live life – but many will never even know it. Stress can trigger an existing tendency towards a bipolar illness (or manic depression), but can never cause it.

Bipolar II is characterised by a prevalence of depressive lows, and is not a "mild" form. Bipolar illness is controlled through medication and self-management. The best of luck to Ms Jones in managing hers.

We've lost a brave and brilliant voice

RIP Sir Simon Milton, who was the Deputy Mayor of London until his death on Monday. He was a judge on last year's IoS Pink List, of the most influential gay and lesbian people in Britain, and for the first and probably last time I agree with David Cameron and Boris Johnson, who called him "extraordinarily talented" and "brilliant at his job".

He was also, Cameron take note, one of the most positive results of immigration; his Jewish father fled the Nazis to Britain. Obituaries called Sir Simon "self-effacing" and "modest", but he was no faceless pen-pusher. In his last email to me on the Pink List, he wrote: "Great list... there will be one or two controversies, but that is what exercises like this are about."

If only there were more like him.

The cheque's in the post

If Kafka were alive today, he'd regard HM Revenue & Customs as too bizarre for fiction. My friend has an outstanding county court judgment – the naughty boy didn't open his post from the tax people (who, in fact, owed him money).

To clear the judgment, he needed confirmation that he'd paid up, so he sent off the forms, and waited. Eventually he called an office somewhere, which said that there was a backlog, and that he should hear by May. Are the naughty things not opening their post? When I called, a surprisingly caring spokesman put me right. The staff open all post instantly, he said; it might contain cheques!

And there is no backlog, even though there are 30 million letters a year. If you think it's hard dealing with HMRC, be grateful for the unflappable people who work there.