Julie Burchill: No wonder the nuclear family goes into meltdown after Christmas

Thursday 30 December 2010 01:00 GMT

Don't care much for families. I adored my mum and dad, but to be honest I don't miss them much now they're dead. I was a rubbish mother myself, but I certainly can't put that down to bad parenting – it was all my own work. And the horror stories I've heard over the years about various friends' vicious run-ins with brothers, mothers, sisters and assorted related misters makes me miss what Dodie Smith called "the dear octopus" not one jot – especially at this time of the year.

All those queues for the sales – half a mile long, some of them, in the early hours of the Boxing Day/Bank Holiday mornings in near-zero temperatures. Sorry, but that's not just about getting 40 per cent of the price of a Sylvanian Families Babblebrook Grange playset at Hamley's – that's about not being able to stand the babble of your own your family after just a couple days in their bosom.

We are now entering the season for divorce lawyers to be jolly, and you really can't blame the Oxford solicitors Hine for distributing a little bit of festive fairy dust in the shape of thousands of leaflets advertising a half-price divorce promotion (from 800 down to 400 quid, the difference of which could pick you up any number of Sylvanian Families playsets) from January the 4th to the 21st for couples who have discovered an irreconcilable nut allergy to each other over the Christmas break.

The Bishop of Oxford has protested, but if you read the New Testament properly you'll see that Jesus wasn't at all big on the nuclear family, leading his poor old parents a right old dance and forever entreating marriageable young men (and prossies) to leave their loved ones and follow him in the cause of the greater good.

He's not the only one. A whopping 1.8 million couples contemplate divorce during the Christmas period, according to the Family Mediation Helpline. Relate, the UK's largest provider of relationship support, says that the feeding frenzy in New Year divorce proceedings follows a 50 per cent surge in the number of calls over Christmas. It's an image that reminds me of how our hardy swimmers here in Brighton plunge into the freezing brine on Christmas Day; about a hundred actually have the guts to take the plunge, but hundreds more watch shivering from the shore, pledging to themselves that next year, next year they'll pluck up the nerve to finally do it.

Because my third husband and I make very few demands on each other and – in the nicest possible way – have very few expectations of each other, as we are both so odd and self-contained, we get along very well over holidays, be they at home or abroad – the times when more claustrophobically-entwined pairs tend to come undone. But I don't remember the festive season being a bundle of laughs during my first two, more conventional, marriages, and I do remember a poignant exchange which heralded the end of the second one. "Isn't it bad," I said to my second husband on the Christmas Eve of 1994, "I always mean to think about Jesus at this time of year, and then all the parties start happening, and in the end I don't get around to thinking about him at all..." "Well, he must be the ONLY fit Jew between the ages of 18 and 30 you haven't been thinking about recently," quipped my old guy. We were over come summer.

My cynicism towards regular marriages leads me to look with a less censorious eye on that which might once have seemed freakish and I was surprised at how benign I felt towards the newly engaged Hugh Hefner and his gorgeous fiancee. What's in a name? You start with a Mildred, move on to a Kimberley and at the age of 84 you find yourself preparing for your third marriage to a 24-year-old Crystal. And people dare to diss the American Dream!

People may scoff at what the gorgeous young model sees in the tortoise-like old billionaire, but at least in this union each brings a foreign quality which their opposite number will surely appreciate. (Prince William understood this, too, and rejected a generation of international aristocrats in favour of a bourgeoise bride.) And this strikes me as far more appealing than those "normal" marriages where the partners are the same age, race, class and income group – a celebration of socio-economic smuggery, no less. And then surprise surprise, because you married someone who could pass as a member of your family, within a few years and a couple of tots the marriage has suffered bed-death, no one's getting any, he spends his time downloading lesbo porn, her on Mumsnet complaining about Rachel Weisz running off with James Bond (jealous, much?) and they're both hiding a half-price divorce leaflet from Hine inside their Boden catalogues. And a Happy New Year to you all!

A cruise with Prescott? Pass the sick bucket

When I'm not thrusting twenty pounds notes on beggars and urging them to spend it unwisely, there's nothing I enjoy more than blowing my cushily-earn-ed cash chasing the 5-star sun. I never even went abroad till I was 35, so I reckon I've got a sizeable carbon footprint to fill.

This being so, it's always been a mystery to me why I'm not tempted in anyway, shape or form by cruises. A new sun-soaked vista every day, numerous ill-paid staff to play boozed-up Lady Bountiful to – perfection!

But now I understand why I found it so easy to resist all these years. For fear of getting stuck on the QE2 with JOHN PRESCOTT. For FIFTEEN DAYS AND NIGHTS. Telling jokes about his wife's knickers. And VOMITING from noro-virus. It's like some hideous ocean-going existential version of CLUEDO.

How strange it is that Prescott once laboured in the servants' quarters of cruise ships, and was not without a certain nobility. And all these years later, all those secretaries shagged and toilet seats broken and croquet mallets waved and dinners up-chucked, he travels First Class yet has the aspect of an oaf.

Mind you, I can talk. If my 17-year-old self met my 51-year-old self, she'd be amazed that a person could have taken so many drugs yet still get so fat. The humourless, self-righteous little freak!

Stop kidding. It's not clever or funny

I'm not often shocked, but I almost spat my breakfast Valium into my Buckfast when I read that A THIRD of British kiddies aged 12 to 17 have admitted FAKING mental illnesses, seeing them as "trendy" and contributing to their idea of themselves as "unique", according the the online therapy service Mentaline.com.

The top five faked freak-outs were eating disorders (22 per cent), self-harming (17 per cent), addiction, depression and bi-polar. These young frauds need to be snapped out of it, PDQ. Or before you know it they'll be 19 and swinging on the Cenotaph and pretending to be a starving student when REALLY they're Little Lord Fauntleroy who've swopped a cummerbund for a keffiyeh, and their stepdad's worth a million billion trillion in loose change alone.

And how sad would THAT be – imagine!

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