Who says marriage isn't a laughing matter?

Anyone who believes husbands and wives speak the same language is from a different planet

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My quote of the week goes to the marriage registrar from north London who said that it wasn't difficult to spot couples who were tying the knot for convenience rather than for love. Latest figures reveal that phoney marriages between illegal immigrants looking to regularise their status by paying British nationals or, at any rate, someone with residential rights vast sums of money to marry them are on the increase. There were more than 10,000 bogus marriages in Britain last year, mainly in London, and they're on the increase.

My quote of the week goes to the marriage registrar from north London who said that it wasn't difficult to spot couples who were tying the knot for convenience rather than for love. Latest figures reveal that phoney marriages between illegal immigrants looking to regularise their status by paying British nationals or, at any rate, someone with residential rights vast sums of money to marry them are on the increase. There were more than 10,000 bogus marriages in Britain last year, mainly in London, and they're on the increase.

For the record, 254,400 bona fide couples got married in England last year, including my hairdresser whose bridesmaids, she told me, were all dressed like the fairies from A Midsummer Night's Dream. How exactly was that, I asked her, remembering a production I once saw on the Edinburgh Fringe where Moth and Cobweb were topless and Pease Blossom had a fluorescent pink G-string with flashing lights that said Mind the Gap. "Lilac chiffon with wings made from the same devoré velvet as the groom's waistcoat," said Tracey dreamily, "and we continued the fairy and magic theme right through to the reception with wands and silver stars incorporated in all the floral displays."

When it comes to marriage it's the little things that count, and when it comes to sussing out a bogus marriage, said the registrar, it's being able to spot the little inconsistencies that don't quite add up. Like, for instance, the bride not knowing where her fiancé lives or him having no idea how old she is or - and this is the real giveaway - that they don't actually speak the same language.

Hang on, where did I say this registrar came from - north London? Sorry, I meant Mars because anyone who believes that any husband and wife speak the same language must come from a different planet. It's probably easier in fact not to speak the same language because that way at least you do have a genuine excuse for not being able to understand one another.

Like the Ukrainian waitress that friends and I fixed up with a Welsh-speaking engineer from Swansea to save her from being sent home to Kiev and a life of grinding poverty. This was back in the early 1980s but the story hasn't changed much. Her visa had run out and the Home Office wouldn't renew it, so we had to come up with a husband fairly quickly and cheaply. Lena didn't have a penny. She sent all her wages home and the rest of us were skint, but people were a lot nicer in those days and a lot less mercenary.

It helped, I suppose, that Lena was pretty. So anyway we asked around and eventually came up with this quiet Welsh speaker who said that he'd do it for £50 and an MOT for his Morris Minor. Twenty years on they're still happily married, which is more than I can say for the majority of my friends and, come to think of it, myself. We knew everything about our other halves when we took the plunge - address, age, shoe size, dietary requirements - and much good it did us. Of course I appreciate we're talking about two entirely different things here: breaking the law is not the same as breaking one's marriage vows.

And you certainly can't laugh about it in the same way as you can laugh about marriage. I was going to say that former rabbi Jackie Mason, now one of the funniest stand-up comedians in the business, had the best marriage jokes, and then I remembered Henny Youngman, also Jewish. Last Christmas someone gave me one of those tiny stocking-filler books devoted exclusively to Henny Youngman one-liners, most of them about marriage. Why do men usually die before their wives? Because they want to. First man: My wife's an angel. Second man: You're lucky, mine's still alive. Do you know what it means to come home to a wife who gives you a little love, a little affection, a little tenderness? It means you've gone to the wrong house.

OK, OK, I know that the irretrievable breakdown of a marriage is not strictly a laughing matter and you'd be better advised to race off to Relate or buy a copy of John Gray's trite but still thought-provoking best seller Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, but given the choice I'd prefer to watch a Woody Allen film about the incompatibility of men and women.

I think there's room for just one more Youngman classic. The secret of making your marriage last? he says, I'll tell you. Twice a week we go to a restaurant, candles, music, a little wine, good food. She goes Tuesdays. I go Fridays.

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