Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

Happy families? It’s a tricky game to play at holiday time

Hugh Hefner (centre)

I 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.

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.

All those queues for the sales. Sorry, but that's not just about getting 40% off the price of a Sylvanian Families Babblebrook Grange playset — that's about not being able to stand the babble of your own family after just a couple of days in their bosom.

We are now entering the season for divorce lawyers to be jolly and you really can't blame the firm of solicitors which distribted a little bit of festive fairy-dust in the shape of thousands of leaflets advertising a half-price divorce promotion from January 4-21 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.

He's not the only one. A whopping 1.8m couples contemplate divorce during the Christmas period, according to the Family Mediation Helpline. Relate — the UK's largest provider of relationship support — says the feeding frenzy in New Year divorce proceedings follows a 50% surge in the number of calls over Christmas.

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.

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 inside their Boden catalogues.

And a Happy New Year to all.

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