I see that va-va-voom sexpot Thierry Henry is splitting from his wife of only four years, oh dear, shame, poor Nicole. But nobody can be surprised. Though it's only a month since half the England team put the "W" into WAG on the same Saturday in June, footballers' marriages rarely seem long-lasting. Expensive, yes: couture bridal gowns, enough flowers to fill Manchester Cathedral, slap-up wedding breakfasts at all the obvious haunts (Blenheim Palace, Cliveden, Highclere Castle). Weddings are amazingly hip these days.
Marriage is not. David Cameron (happily married to the lovely Samantha) has mishandled his summer offensive. He's been desperately seeking something to get his polls up before Gordon hits him with a snap election. Dave wanted something conservative-but-with-a-very-small-c, to fix "our broken society" and siezed on Tax Breaks for Married Couples as likely sounding. Basically, because married couples sort of last longer than unmarried ones, you know? Twelve years is it, before divorcing? Give 'em a bonus.
Alas, it won't fly. Government spokesmen merrily damned tax-breaks for marriage as economically barking, right-wing preaching and an insult to "hard-working families" (code for "unmarried mothers", hiss, boo, you naughty Tory).
It would indeed be an odd way to spend £10bn, but that's not the reason it won't fly. Bringing back tax breaks for married couples wouldn't work as social glue because marriage itself doesn't work any more. The state of matrimony has been nibbled away to nothing over the last 30 years, for good, rational reasons. The Church lost faith in it and governments of all stripes lost interest in it once feminism made it laughable. All that "male head of the household" stuff was ridiculous. If you earn your own wage and keep being told that marriage is "legalised prostitution", and "household slavery" you go off the idea a bit. Also, once the divorce laws were liberalised, divorce stopped being a neat way for men to throw out the old boiler and marry a trophy. These days, 75 per cent of all divorces are prosecuted by women.
In youth, I was a keen subscriber to the feminist critique of marriage. But weirdly, I got married for old-fashioned reasons. It was purely fiscal. I was 32, mother of two and full-time stepmother of two more. (Since their pa didn't divorce Mrs Firstwife until after I had my babies, only his daughters were "legitimate". Back then, my two were "illegitimate and illegitimable").
But I was happy being unmarried. Our house was jointly owned, we both worked, we had separate bank accounts and a joint one to fund school shoes, food, bills, childcare. It was all very rational and modern and feminist.
But after the second child, I realised life continued after 30. I began to fret about having all these dependents. Having always hoped I'd die before I got old, I started worrying about making wills and finding guardians for the babes in case of plane-crashes. The word "pension" came into my head for the first time ever. I asked the partner, as he then was, what would happen if he hit a motorway bridge on the way home? Being only 33 himself, he parried. But what happens to your estate? I nagged. Because Mrs Firstwife is the mother of your legitimate children, while I count as concubine with two lights-o'-love. We should get married, you know. If we were married, I'd be your widow! Everything would be simpler. He would say, "Will you stop bloody nagging about me dying."
So I stopped. Even when he told me the divorce was through, I didn't resume. I thought, well - I'll just have to make sure I've squirrelled enough away to buy Mrs Firstwife out when the dark day comes.
One day, he phoned me at work and said he was taking me to dinner tonight. What for? He said, "No reason," which struck me as odd. We both worked long hours, we both scrabbled for "parenting quality time", we never went out to dinner on a weekday. I grumped a bit and said OK. We sat through a fancy meal, then he asked the waiter for a cigar (you could, back then), scribbled something on the cigar-band and threw it at me. I unrolled it, and read: "O LET US BE MARRIED, TOO LONG WE HAVE TARRIED" and he sat back beaming, blowing smoke.
I said: You shit! You utter, utter shit! and knocked the wineglass over. He said: "Er - what"? and I started shouting: "I asked you if we could get married two years ago! You said no! You knew I was right and you still said no! And now you think you can just come up with a stupid quasi-romantic PROPOSAL because MARRIAGE is in your gift! Our bastard children are at home and I'm here for a power gesture! "Which you can refuse," he said. "And, erm, can you lower your voice slightly? People are staring." They were. The maitre d' suddenly sprang the length of the room with a bottle of Pol-Roger: look, it's a nice, balmy evening, the terrace is lovely, it's this door here, perhaps the lady would like to get some air, sir. This is on the house. Once outside, my bridegroom-elect said mildly, "Well, um. Up to you, obviously. But I've bought a special licence." I spent the next three weeks in a pettish power-struggle: no bridal gown, no guests, no ceremony, no invitations, no damn wedding-list. This is a civil partnership, undertaken for fiscal reasons purely, OK? He said fine. And he's still around, unlike M. Henry. So I guess we didn't need young Cameron's £20 a week.
Last week I wrote that I didn't want to enrich Alastair Campbell by buying his self-serving diaries. Well, I hopped from foot to foot in Borders last Saturday, feloniously trying to work up the courage to shoplift The Blair Years. But I didn't fancy embarrassing the two youths on the tills, so I bought the bloody thing. (Discounted: £5 off.) I started reading it on Sunday afternoon when the village cricket match was rained off and couldn't stop. Obviously, it's all about Ur-Alastair, with TB popping up like Guildenstern. But I was struck by a paragraph early on when he and Fiona went to a wedding and Richard Stott made a "funny" speech: " Said the reason Fiona had never married me was that she was still waiting for Peter Mandelson."
Ho, ho, very satirical. But note the grammar: SHE never married ME, eh? So
Alastair proposed and Fiona said no? I'd occasionally wondered whether it was (principled) Ms Millar or (reprobate) Campbell who was so deliberate about their non-marital status. If a newspaper ever refers to her as Campbell's "wife", the mistake is punctiliously corrected: she's his PARTNER. From my own case I know these things are "jointly decided". But in every long-term relationship I've ever come across, joint decisions are made when one person says: "I think we should do X" and the other one says: "Fine." So, though I'm only a faint-hearted feminist myself, I feel a sisterly warmth for Fiona Millar.Reuse content