Style Magazine – Women and Guilt

styleWhat a sight at Madonna’s 52nd birthday party at Shoreditch House last week. The ultra-disciplined, ‘no TV in my house’, macrobiotic superstar and mother was snapped drink in one hand, cigarette in other. Did she care? Apparently not.

Skip back a few weeks and Denise Van Outen admits she gave up breastfeeding her new baby after less than a month ? as so many women do. “I probably should have persevered a bit longer than three weeks,” she said in her first interview since her daughter’s arrival in May. “But I can’t be sitting in Starbucks and breastfeeding”. And then there’s Cameron Diaz, who refuses to apologise for embracing life in her late thirties as an independent free spirit. Instead of giving tearful interviews about feeling incomplete ? without husband or baby ? she has etched the names of some of Hollywood’s hottest men onto her bedpost. “I knew all along that if I had a child, I wouldn’t be having all the other things I wanted in my life, so I didn’t have a child and I got those things,” she explained simply. It’s not all that sex we’re envying ? well, maybe a bit: it’s the absence of guilt. What do all these women have in common? They’ve given up feeling bad. We should all be doing likewise, but sadly most of us can only look on in envy.

Recently I appeared as a guest on Vanessa Feltz’s radio show. We were meant to be talking about my new book, but the conversation drifted onto mothers. One thing she and I have in common is a tendency not to apologise for the choices we make – or so I thought. Vanessa said, “My mother was so wonderful. She did beautiful needlework, she baked, she kept a perfectly tidy house…” and so on, listing her many accomplishments as compared with her own supposedly meagre CV. “Hmm,” I said. “Did she get a First from Cambridge? Did she ever present a live three hour daily radio show?” Oddly enough, no. “But I feel I should at least make the effort to bake,” added Vanessa.

I went home amazed that a woman so manifestly good at what she does could be so preoccupied with what she doesn’t do. Several high profile writers, among them journalist Allison Pearson and novelist Marian Keyes, recently announced they had been struggling with depression, brought about by aiming for unrealistically high standards in their lives. Honestly, have we not moved forward at all?

My friend Talia, a publisher and divorced mother of one, e-mailed me this week: “I’m feeling guilty for starting work at 9.45 today, after a heavenly walk through the park after the school run. But I was on the phone to New York till 7pm last night, so why do I need to do this absurd balancing act? The ‘good girl’ disease is truly hideous.” At least she recognizes the insidious nature of the thing. Maybe that’s progress in itself.

Sophie Laurimore, 39, has two small children and runs a TV talent agency with just one assistant. She has lately decided to ‘switch off the guilt.’ How? “You just have to. If you let it impact on what you’ve chosen to do, you completely undermine your sense of self-worth and with it, all the good you’re doing for yourself and your family.” A depressed, guilty mother is far worse for families: we are all agreed on that, right? Motherhood should be like the safety procedure on planes; we need to put on our own oxygen masks before helping others. Martyrs may look good on altars but they make rubbish parents. Do you really want your daughter to be born with Original Guilt?

I take the advice of my father, the cartoonist Mel Calman, late of this newspaper, who never compared himself with others. “In an ideal world I’d be able to paint like Degas,” he used to say, ‘but I think it’s unlikely, so I’ll just do the best I can with what I’ve got.” He did, too. My mother helped me as well, by working part-time through my childhood and leaving the housework to the nanny. She only ever made a cake once ? in 1975, and it didn’t rise.

When I had Lawrence, now 13, and Lydia, 11, I discovered that (a) children can’t be raised perfectly, and (b) perfection makes no-one happy. I also realized that everyone is different, and therefore comparisons of the ‘work v home’ sort are pointless. In 2003 I founded as a rebuttal to the idealized vision of motherhood as personified by the thin, impeccably clad celebrities who claimed to be ‘totally fulfilled’ by it in the way that only people with nannies and assistants can be. An early posting on our forum – ‘Will the Health Visitor criticize my dirty kitchen floor?’ was one of many that revealed ‘bad’ parenting was just like abortion had once been – millions of women, each believing they alone had once failed to brush their child’s teeth or put fruit in their packed lunch.

But women find it hard to give up this nonsense. Katherine Whitehorn said it back in the sixties, and she wasn’t even the first. Did Elizabeth the First pause on the way to Tilbury, worried that she hadn’t put a deer on the spit before going to fight the Armada? Did Queen Victoria miss the opening of The Great Exhibition because she’d been out twice that week already and it wouldn’t be fair?

And yet, here we are, still berating ourselves for not Having it All, or Doing It All, and then berating ourselves yet further for not being happy. No wonder men think we’re mad.

Men don’t do this to themselves. They know that if they’re at work they can’t be at home, and vice versa. They do not lie awake at night because it’s the school fete tomorrow and they haven’t made a sponge. I have never met one, not one, who thought he could Do It All, or even wanted to. We used to want them to be less selfish, and more like us. Maybe we’ve been getting this the wrong way round.

Stephanie Calman is the founder of the Bad Mothers Club. Her latest book How (Not) to Murder Your Husband is out now in Pan Paperbacks.

Guilt Free short cuts to housewifely perfection
*Spray polish on the radiators for that ‘just cleaned’ smell
*White wine on red wine stains is a waste. Buy a new carpet instead.
* To clean laminate floors, put all your children in old socks, spray bottoms of socks with cleaning fluid, get children to skid up and down floor. Works a treat to clean floor and no effort to amuse kids. Small risk of bumps and bruises.
* Keep toothbrushes, paste, soap and flannel in the kitchen. Then when you are late for school you can forcibly clean the children as they eat.
* To keep toddlers out of your bedroom on early weekend mornings, put Vaseline on the door handles ? the outside.
* HOW TO CLEAN THE HOUSE: 1. Open a new file in your PC. 2. Name it “Housework.” 3. Send it to the RECYCLE BIN. 4. Empty the RECYCLE BIN. 5. Your PC will ask you, “Are you sure you want to delete Housework permanently?” 6. Calmly answer, “Yes,” and press mouse button firmly. Feel better.

The F Word

There’s a new word going around: it has four letters and begins with F. It’s banned in schools, and, these days, pretty much expurgated from the workplace as well. Lawrence and his friends have taken it up with great enthusiasm since finding it on the internet where it presides over the home page of a massively popular website. It is, of course, ‘Fail’.


The Fail Blog features the sort of photos and videos ? of a man trying to de?ice his roof with an iron, for example, or a JCB lifting a huge statue and dropping it ? that make you wonder how humanity has evolved this far. It is naturally highly amusing and one of the reasons I have not vacuumed my study, walked round the Lake District or learned Italian.

And, with the help of Lawrence, his friends and indeed all teenagers, it has brought about the rehabilitation of the F?word.
“Fail”, he says when I open the milk and some of it spurts onto the counter; “Fail, Dad!” when Peter joins in with the iPod and Lydia puts her hands over her ears. “Fail” when your lips get tangled and you tell them to ‘blush their teeth’. It is becoming even more popular than the dreaded ‘like’.

Even sheltered kids who’ve never heard it love that word, because it’s ideal for that stage of your life when you still believe it’s possible to get everything right. Until you try to earn a living, have children or attempt anything that basically involves leaving the house, you can envisage a world without error.

The irony is that Lawrence doesn’t even need it. He already corrects us about every tiny thing, including glitches in pronunciation that even an elocution teacher with OCD would let go.
On his last school Open Day, he got dressed then took off his tie and blazer and untucked his shirt. The impression was faintly unsettling, as of someone in the City who had lost his job and might be found along the Embankment, asking passers?by if they could spare a few shares.
“What is it?” he said when I scrutinised him.
“Not for an Open Day, I said. “You either need to tuck your shirt back in, or totally change.”
“‘Totally’ change?” he said, with the tone of incredulity that accompanies everything he’s said to me since 2008.
“Yes.” I fixed him with my death stare. “You could totally change into someone less sarcastic.”
You don’t expect a twelve year?old to care so obsessively about how one should speak. Why doesn’t he mumble at the floor like normal boys of his age? Somehow I have spawned a very pedantic child.
“Can’t think how,” says Peter.
“My mother is pedantic, so it must have skipped a generation.”
It was she who once reminded me, mid?argument, that peanuts are not nuts, but ‘adventitious rootlets’. That’s the sort of thing I’m up against.
But I’m precise, which is different. I simply criticise genuine mistakes. When I’m Queen, cafes will be banned from putting ‘paninis’ on their menus, and Radio 4 will automatically stop transmitting if an interviewee refers to the ‘nuculer deterrent’. By contrast, adults over thirty who accidentally say,
“Bring me your homework book” instead of “homework diary” will be spared. And they certainly won’t be subjected to taunts of ‘Fail!’
Meanwhile, I can’t wait for the children to shove off and start engaging with the Real World a bit more, so they can find out how incredibly many opportunities life provides for being flawed.
On the other hand, it’s good they’re still inmates of my despotic regime because I can continue to wield some power over them.”
I need some cheese,” says Lawrence, appearing on the stairs one night. “Because we learned in Science that you can’t sleep if you’re hungry.”
“Yeah? Remind me to have a word with your Science Teacher. Oh, and did he also mention that you can’t sleep if your mother is yelling, really loudly:

“Fail,” I add ? just to see how it feels.

The Snow Daughter

The guinea pigs have gone to a better place: Crystal Palace. A family of pet lovers came and took them to join their lone female, two ferrets and a rabbit. Lydia’s relationship with them had dwindled to roughly where I am with my ex–boyfriends; she wished them well but had ceased to feel personally responsible for their happiness.

For a day or two, a ghostly whiff of hay and urine hung in the air. And even three weeks on I’m still bending to grab dandelions off the verges then suddenly straightening up again empty–handed, which – to be fair to the children – really does look mad.

The night they left, Lydia asked me to read her a story from Old Peter’s Russian Tales, which Arthur Ransome collected and rewrote when he went to research folklore there. I had no idea that the author of all that messing about in boats was capable of breaking your heart as effectively as Oscar Wilde. Unfortunately, Lydia had just got up to ‘The Snow Daughter’: a lonely couple make a child for themselves out of snow, and through their own greed and stupidity, lose her forever. It made me cry so much I had to bend down and pretend to pick up some toys. Luckily the room is currently chock a block, so I was able to be down there for quite a while without arousing suspicion, and I did clear a path to the wardrobe.
I’m not one for repressing emotions in front of children, mind you, just for demonstrating a modicum of control; I don’t want to be one of those women who go to pieces at the drop of a hat, crying in bus queues and telling people they’ve just met about their operations.

However, one must face the real issue here. You can stiffen the upper lip all you like, but parenthood is about the management of separation and loss. So some kind of safety valve is useful, where you can let it out from time to time in reasonably controlled conditions. Then when the children say, “Why are you crying, Mummy?” you needn’t say:

“Because one day you will grow up and leave, assuming something awful doesn’t happen to you first, like being run over, and you will meet someone you love more than you love me, which will be wonderful, but I will miss you dreadfully, and you may have children, I hope, which will be great, but I may be dead by then and never see them, as my father never saw you, and when I think about this I want to cry a lot, which is why I’m pretending to pick up toys.”

Instead you can just say:

“Because the story of the Snow Daughter is so sad.”

But life renews itself, or as my old nanny puts it: one door closes, another one opens. Lydia is going to sponsor a child. Yes, the person who wasn’t up to stuffing hay into a cage will be contributing to the welfare of an actual human being – a round–cheeked little girl in Nicaragua, though we requested the Caribbean: ‘non–hurricane zone preferred.’

At one letter or so a month it has to be manageable, even for us, though there’s a risk that it will be viewed by Lawrence in the same light as the cuts at home versus the ring–fenced International Aid Budget: why are we not allowed Special K (over £2 a box) and yet sending £12 a month to someone we’ve never met?

There are several answers to that. One, twelve quid goes a long way over there, so there’s a sense of being effective, which one almost never is at home. Two, I’m still hoping to hone Lydia’s responsibility skills before she becomes a parent herself or Peter brings home the alpaca he promised her, whichever comes first.
And three, Nicaragua is nice and far, so when little round–cheeks no longer needs us I can wave her off happily. No toys will get tidied, but I’d say it’s a pretty fair trade.

10 Ways To Save Money This Christmas

christmasMany parents are concerned about making ends meet for Christmas this year. With budgets tighter than ever before, many parents are wondering if they should use their credit cards and go deeper into debt. Per a recent survey, the typical family spends an additional £165 during the month of December. However, it’s possible to cut this expense down without cutting out the gifts. Here are some tips to help you have a frugal and festive Christmas Holiday.

1. Pare Down Your List

Sit down now and plan out your gift giving for friends and family. Agree not to exchange gifts with some of them and set a price limit for others. Especially set a price limit for adults. Use a children only rule or create a secret Santa. Draw names if you wish so that everyone only has one gift to buy. This saves a lot and will still be fun. By setting the amount in advance, you’re sure to save a lot of money.

2. Take Advantage Of Vouchers & Freebies

Look around your home for unused vouchers. Many go unused so you may have some lying around. Collect these and use them up. Don’t forget to check for loyalty points on your cards and reward cards. These can add up and if you can convert the point to gift cards on your reward cards you’ll save even more. Look for buy one get one deals and watch for special promotions that are used often in stores around the holiday season. This can all work toward getting some great gifts and saving you money. Also getting freebies is a good way to save money on stocking fillers, which are always fun presents, I also give my daughter the free perfume samples, which she loves.

3. Switch Your Shopping Out

Go to less expensive supermarkets and save a bundle. Make the most of discount supermarkets like Lidl or Aldi. Take stock of what you do have and go from there so that you’re not buying anything that you may already have on hand. Focus on making it yourself or watching for sales. You may find that the store brand beats the name brand.

4. Don’t Over Buy

Of course you want to put on a nice spread, but remember, you can have everyone bring a part of the meal. Don’t do it all yourself. Don’t waste food, consider the site to get you an idea of proper portions and more. If you’re going to be catering a party that lasts for 2 hours, this site suggests seven party food items per person. It also helps by showing examples of ingredients and helping you with a shopping list.

5. Cut The Drink Bill

Don’t buy costly alcohol, instead, find some great recipes for non-alcoholic drinks or use a less expensive brand. It can really add up. Buy alcohol on sale in the off season and save it for the holiday.

6. Check Out eBay

Sell your excess on eBay to make room for more things in your home. Take this cash and use it for gifts. One mans trash is another mans treasure so remember to weed out what you’re not using or needing. It’s really simple and you’ll find that you can make a small fortune. If you have used books or textbooks, Amazon is the place for these. You can really rake in the cash in this fashion.

7. Get Paid For Your Shopping Experience

Use cashback programs and consider mystery shopping as ways to earn enough for gifts. There are many cashback sites such as or even Simply set up an account and use this site to get to high end retailers and save a lot of money. You’ll get a percentage back when you shop this way.

8. Discounts

Shop outlet and clearance stores online or off to gain access to great deals on all your favorite brands. Just because something has a big name doesn’t mean you can’t afford it. Shop big by using such discounts stores and you’re sure to save a bundle. If you learn the sales routine you’ll do even better. Always know the retail value of the items you’re considering so that you won’t be overspending.

9. Cut Back On Postage

Many discount couriers are less costly than the Royal Mail. Especially if your items are heavier. Consider drop shipping directly from the company. has great deals on book deliveries like DHL and UPS to get your items where they’re going fast. You can also go for next day services and urgent parcels. Remember to use every discount deal on postage that you cannot afford. This can save you a ton of money in the long run. ship early and don’t stress as you can rest assured the earlier that you ship the more likely your items are to arrive on schedule.

10. Save Money With Twitter

Stay in touch with social network sites. You can still send money saving gift cards and more but do it all online. You’ll save on postage and shipping and your friends and family will still get their gifts. Just do a search engine search of the term “money saving ” or “frugal gifts” and find ways to get them to your friends and family inexpensively. You can also watch pennygolightly and moneymagpie on Twitter for more sales ideas, hints and money savers. There are many sites like Amazon and eBay that use twitter and other social networks to spread the word on great deals and discounts so be sure that you’re following the right people on your social networks to get the deals.

These tips should help you to find all the great deals and have the best Christmas holiday ever without having to over spend. Your friends and family will think you spent a fortune if you follow these tips. You’ll be happy that you saved a fortune. What a great feeling to wake up the day after Christmas and know that you aren’t going to have to take out a loan to pay off your holiday. These tips will give you peace of mind.


moodyBy the time you read this, our eldest child will have become a Teenager. Your condolences are gratefully accepted.

Actually, that’s not quite right; he’s been a teenager for a while. Nowadays, they hit adolescence much earlier; estimates range from eleven to six, depending on which paper you take your anxiety levels from.
Lawrence and I discuss how to reflect his new status in his finances. Foolishly, I mention the allowance I got from my father when I was fourteen – today’s equivalent of age ten.

“I think I got £15 a month,” I say. “But that was for clothes, records and so on.”
“So, all the things you didn’t need.”

Lately he has appointed himself arbiter of the family’s spending, as if installed here by the coalition to demand that we all justify our consumption. The other day he questioned Lydia for having a mid–morning piece of toast.

“No, I say, “things I did need. Not just records and stuff; essentials.”

“If you don’t want to sound old, you could stop saying ‘record’,” he says.

We are waiting in a bank to open him a proper account – debit card, no free cuddly toy – for his birthday, something I had hoped might be greeted with enthusiasm or even mild curiosity, as opposed to the ennui that pervades all our communications now.

I loathe banks and would rather watch America’s Got Talent again than surrender my firstborn to their evil embrace. But Lawrence shops on Amazon and I am sick of lending him my card. By way of – somewhat feeble – protest, I have spurned our bank for a different one. So in return for the minimal satisfaction of denying ours a fresh victim, we are now joining one which is quite possibly even more inefficient, and whose nearest branch isn’t even that near.

“We also thought,” I say while we wait, “we might raise your pocket money, in return for more chores.”
“More?! On top of what we do already?”

I notice he is now including his sister in an effort at collective bargaining, or at least collective righteous indignation. Perhaps we have spawned a future trade union leader. He certainly has the ability to argue on long after I have retired, exhausted, to bed.

I get a text from the friend whose bank we are in.

‘Son refuses to water garden, even for £5.’

A fiver for watering sounds quite good to me. Annoyingly, Lawrence and Lydia are often not motivated by money either. When they were small, our one attempt at star charts failed because they never cared enough to fill up a whole line. And I have often offered five pounds just to do the outside of the car, to be greeted by waves of apathy. My sister and I were always after cash by any means ? even work if all else failed, so I don’t understand why my children aren’t more mercenary.

We leave the forms at the bank and go to meet Peter and Lydia at the park for table tennis. Lawrence plays me, then his father, and beats both of us. As with adolescence, ping–pong can be tackled at any age; there are the middle–aged, like us, teens, tweens, twentysomethings and at the junior end of the scale, a toddler who has to stand on the table in order to see over the net.

As we pack up to go home, the children see their old favourite, the big rope climbing frame. The first time they reached the top, I couldn’t watch. Now they recline at the summit on their backs, while we gaze up at them.

“Why don’t you two follow us back in an hour?” Peter suggests.
“So we can be more independent,”

says Lawrence witheringly. They pretend to stay behind, then run silently through the trees behind us like small ninjas, and surprise us at the gate.
In the morning I come down to find the kitchen looking different;

Lawrence has tidied up the cooking area.

“I just felt like it,” he says.
What? I feel wobbly from the shock. Just when you think they’ve become truly adolescent they confound you by being suddenly human again.

A Chorus Line

Most middle class parents worry about the pernicious influence of the media on the developing minds of their offspring, something we gave up on years ago.


Actually Lawrence is immune from almost all incoming propaganda as he has given up TV for the computer game Monster Hunter. Lydia however is somewhat of an open vessel, subsisting currently on repeats of ‘My Super Sweet Sixteen’, about the ludicrous birthday celebrations of rich American teenagers. Lately she has added to this line?up ‘True Beauty,’ in which model types compete to show that they are also ‘beautiful inside’. I manage to stick about four minutes of it, in which the contestants have to try and display sympathy when one of them gets chocolate on their gold shoes.

“The rich aren’t like us,” I tell her. “They have shinier clothes.”
“Yeah, but can you go now?” she says, clearly missing the reference to Scott Fitzgerald. What do they teach them at school these days?
Her generation is being indoctrinated all right, to aim for fame by television. Luckily she has so far resisted the lure of ‘The X?Factor’ and co but then last term things took a worrying turn.

She was widely praised for her nuanced and dryly humorous portrayal of Polly the Maid in the end of year school play, ‘The Rocky Monster Show’. Other parents stopped us in the car park and the drama teacher uttered the words every self?employed parent dreads:
‘She could be an actor.’

As a cure, I made her sit through ‘A Chorus Line’, the film of the hit show which caused a sensation thirty years ago with the revelation that every high?kicking row of nobodies who dreamt of stardom was a mass of heart?rending internal struggles and some of them were even gay. Who would have thought it?

In the middle of it, Peter came in, said:
“On behalf of my generation, I’d like to apologies for the hair in this film,” and went out again.

Sadly the hair was the most startling bit. Seen in the harsh light of 2010 sensibilities, the story is now dreary. Also, Michael Douglas had to play the choreographer as a non-dancer, and even then struggled to act the part of a man who spends a lot of time sitting down.
Luckily there was another hit from the past whose themes of insecure minorities and group survival versus individual self?expression had withstood the temporal tides. It was also far stronger on both character development and narrative tension: the Clangers.

I took her to see the Cartoon Museum’s exhibition of models and drawings from British animation as a holiday diversion not a career move. But as soon as we were home, it was clear that Lydia’s dream of immortality will be achieved not through song or dance but by knitting. She dug out the BBC4 documentary I had saved about Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin, and their creations Clangers, Noggin the Nog, Ivor the Engine and co, and we bought the boxed set which she devoured with a dedication and concentration we’d rarely seen in an academic setting.

For the rest of the holidays she was never without her needles and a downloaded picture of Tiny Clanger, which when we ate, got on a bus or went into see Toy Story, I had to stow in my bag before it came out again for the duration. From the documentary she also learned that they made the armatures out of Meccano.
‘Aha!’ said Peter.

He still had his, hundreds and hundreds of pieces, stored in the compact but shockingly heavy chest of drawers his father made for it in the Fifties, when the evenings stretched out endlessly in the time before You Tube.
‘Actually, Daddy,’ she said. ‘I’m going to use pipe?cleaners.’
And like Michael Douglas, he reacted hardly at all. So we are looking forward with relief to a future with no twisted ankles or backstage histrionics, just peaceful clicking and the occasional dropped stitch.
To paraphrase Wilde, we are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking up at Postgate and Firmin’s stars.

Long Live Marriage! But how?

oldcouplesThe news that former US Vice President Al Gore and his wife Tipper have separated after forty years of apparently happy marriage has unsettled all of us who look to such couples for inspiration.

The pair met at their senior prom, after which Al claimed he never looked at another woman again. So what happened? Perhaps she’d had enough of his pet subject and fancied a climate change of her own. Or maybe they really did grow apart as they said.

Judith, a friend I interviewed for my book, How (Not) to Murder Your Husband, said that when she and her husband Roger divorced, their friends were very shaken. She is sixty–one, the same age as Tipper Gore, and had also been with her husband since they were eighteen.
“That it should have been us, of all couples – a kind of shockwave went round them,” she told me.

If they could fall apart, then any of them could. But her story confirms this particular inconvenient truth: what we see of others’ relationships is just that, only what we see. Inside, the workings are as complex and mysterious as those of a Rolls Royce.

As a friend of mine said when his parents suddenly announced their separation after thirty ‘good’ years:
“When did they stop loving each other? Was it recently, or much further back?”

He began to scrutinize the family photographs, looking for signs.
We tend to assume that others have the same expectations and needs, but people want very different things from marriage. When defending her decision to stay with Bill, Hillary Clinton cited the fact that he always treated her with respect. Wealth and status matter far more to some than fidelity, and she never invited our pity. He was loyal, just not in that way.
To me, being stuck with a man who isn’t funny would be torture, yet I know funny, quirky women married to men with no sense of humour. People marry for a million reasons. And they bring so much baggage with them up the aisle that no relationship can be viewed without its owner’s previous history. And no marriage is an island either. I recently met a man who was leaving his wife because of her parents, who treated him as an on–call, free handyman. Given different in–laws the outcome might have been happier.

So what can we do to ward off disaster?

Catherine Blyth, thirty–five, has been married for eight years – mere blink of an eye to fellow writer Sebastian Shakespeare. She has written The Art of Marriage (John Murray), an eloquent mix of humour and historical perspective. She says,
“It depends on the person. To most I’d say routine does blunt the edges, so don’t get in a rut. Of course, if you’re both doing high–octane jobs and travelling the world all the time, you might need some dull, flat time together.”

It’s a bit of wisdom you don’t often hear.

My former nanny Pat, now a widow of eighty–nine, always says,
“Don’t have any secrets from each other,” a sentiment I wholeheartedly endorse, except that some marriages run for decades on pure denial. Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, one of Hollywood’s greatest long–term romances, never married because he, a Catholic, was married to someone else. Who would have thought divorce a worse sin than adultery?
I met my husband Peter twenty–one years ago this month, and am somewhat amazed to have got this far. We argue, often, but are never bored. Also, I’ve somehow managed to follow my late father’s advice:
“Never marry someone who has more problems than you do.”

What I’ve Learned:

· Have realistic expectations. Desiring your other half to accompany you to a boring family occasion is reasonable; demanding they bail out your feckless brother for the fifth time is not.
· Small favours reap big dividends: bring them back their favourite magazine or brand of chocolate from the shops and watch their face light up (well, it works in my house).
· Negotiation sounds cold–blooded but can get you out of an impasse: I know a wife who agreed to move nearer his parents in exchange for having a third child.
· Try not to criticise their dull anecdotes, nose picking etc in public. A humiliated spouse is a resentful one.
· Spouses are not telepathic by virtue of proximity. If you don’t want to go on holiday with his/her friends and their horrible children again, say so.
· Don’t let them become part of the furniture: Pay attention. Pay a compliment now and then. And listen.

Famous long lasting marriages:

Anne Bancroft & Mel Brooks, 41 years (she died in 2005)
Paul Newman & Joanne Woodward, 50 years (he died in 2008)
Michael & Shakira Caine, 37 years
Paul & Linda McCartney, 29 years (she died in 1998)
Bob Hope & Dolores Reade, 69 years (he died in 2003)
Denis & Edna Healey, 64 years.