So, we Brits have our tea and the French have their mistresses. In the very week that a study into Enduring Love by the Economic and Social Research Council discovers (as if we needed telling) that being brought a cup of tea in bed does more for marital happiness than high-octane romance, we learn that the French President has been rushing across Paris, apparently on a scooter, for love trysts with an actress some 20 years his junior.
While the British press salivated over every detail, characteristically the French gave a collective Gallic shrug and merely asked what the late President François Mitterrand did when news of his illegitimate daughter came to light, which was: ‘Et alors?’ (And?) How quaint our Anglo-Saxon Puritanism must appear in France, the country where a politician who isn’t virile enough to have at least one mistress, isn’t considered man enough for his job.
It would appear that lurve across the Channel is not so much a many splendour’d thing, as a much shared thing. (Mind you, the French probably thought “lucky fellow” too).
By contrast, love in our cold climate seems to be a more measured concept. I don’t know how much money was spent on the Enduring Love survey, but however much it was, they needn’t have bothered.
Most married women at least, could have told the researchers that a man who makes the early morning cuppa, puts the recycling out, having first sorted it respectively into glass, plastics and paper – an act of devotion if ever there was one – and who knows how to stack the dishwasher the correct way (my husband has yet to master that one), is probably a far better prospect than the smoothie who comes home with large bouquets of roses and bottles of Champagne.
It’s the little gestures, such as saying “thank-you” when your other half cleans out the plug hole, or not saying anything at all, other than a gentle “never mind, we’ll manage”, when you’re heading for some remote corner of Scotland and an hour into the journey your husband asks, rather too casually, “You did put the map in, didn’t you?” that make for long-term harmony in a relationship, not the wild extravagant gestures.
That’s not to say that we Brits don’t have high expectations of marriage.
In fact, our national divorce rate of 42 per cent suggests we are anything but satisfied with marriage.
Instead, according to the former Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams, we invest more in the wedding celebration itself than we do in marriage, which means that inevitably for some couples, life after the honeymoon is a bit of a disappointment.
Earlier this month, the Archbishop described this desire for instant gratification as typical of the “short-term, unimaginative, emotionally unintelligent culture of modern Britain”.
Blimey, the bearded cleric doesn’t mince his words, does he?
I have long thought that one remedy might be to make couples put their signature to each wedding vow, not just to the certificate once the ceremony is over.
Writing your name under “for better for worse”, “for richer for poorer” and “in sickness and in health” might make us try a bit harder when the going gets rough.
And even if it doesn’t make any difference to this country’s divorce statistics, at least it might stop married people using that ghastly disclaimer “I didn’t sign up to this” when trouble and strife occur.
At my own wedding at Chorleywood Baptist Church, I didn’t agree to “obey” on the grounds that I didn’t want to start my marriage off on a whopping lie.
Actually, I’d have been very happy to say it, if that had allowed me to omit the bit about forsaking all other, but strangely enough, neither my husband nor the minister would agree.
Perhaps we should have got married in France!
IT’s wonderful what small groups of committed people can do when they feel strongly about something.
I was asked last week to join the newly formed CAIRS (Chorleywood Action for Improved Road Safety) group, who are trying to get something done (at long last) about the flooding on the pavements on, and leading to, the A404 and St Clement Danes’ School – an obvious danger to pupils and a hazard for motorists. Just over a decade ago, merely setting up such a pressure group would have required ads in the paper, notices pinned up across town and probably several phone calls.
Now, all it takes is one enterprising individual (in this case a solicitor with children at the school) to email a few interested parties and invite them for an inaugural meeting in her kitchen.
Oh, and having one bright spark at the table who can come up with a snappy acronym for the group helps, too.
Groups such as these bring people together, they make good use of individual talents, both professional and personal, and can be highly effective in holding those responsible to account. But I had to laugh when one group member mentioned a ‘French drain’ as a possible solution. The French are admired the world over for their engineering, but not for their plumbing.
And if a French drain is anything like a French politician, how can we be sure that it won’t suddenly split itself in two, just when we least expect it?