Why Clive James's wife must forgive his infidelity
06:54 GMT, 22 August 2012
The recipe for a happy marriage, according to a book published this week, is to have lots of extra-marital sex. The author, sociologist Catherine Hakim, claims monogamy is for fools.
She argues that it turns marriage into an exhausting marathon, with couples forced to endure ‘the challenges of childcare, work pressures, mid-life crisis and dwindling marital sex against a backdrop of repressive Anglo-Saxon hang-ups about infidelity’.
She observes that British divorce rates are high, we are too prudish and that our attitude towards affairs is ‘sour and rigid’. The route to maximum happiness, she says, is simply to stay married, but to use burgeoning internet sites to have as many affairs as you like.
Cheating: Sociologist Catherine Hakim argues that monogamy turns marriage into an exhausting marathon and infidelity may be the answer
It’s a tempting philosophy, but it’s as dangerous as it’s wrong.
Far from improving marriage, most affairs wreak terrible damage, as the brilliant writer and TV presenter Clive James is discovering to his cost.
His erudition and wit were of scant help earlier this year when it was revealed he’d had an eight-year affair with a former model, Leanne Edelsten.
Interviewed on Australian TV, she provided toe-curling descriptions of their pet names and intimate habits. She always called him ‘Mr Wolf’ because during their initial liaison he ‘devoured’ her; in turn, he called her ‘Miss Hood’.
She added the superfluous but unforgettable detail that they always drank tea and ate a chocolate bar called Cherry Ripe before making love.
His wife of more than 40 years, academic Prue Shaw, did not take the Catherine Hakim view of her husband’s infidelity.
Far from embracing the affair as a welcome boost to their marriage, she threw Clive out of their Cambridge home and he moved into a dingy London flat.
Affair: Clive James had extramarital relations with former model Leanne Edelsten
Now he is seriously ill, and guess what He no longer wants affairs — but seeks, instead, the solace of the woman he vowed to love, honour and cherish until death.
At the weekend, James revealed he’s so weakened by the chronic lymphotic leukaemia that’s ravaged his immune system that he’s moving back to Cambridge to be closer to Addenbrooke’s Hospital, where he is being treated.
His wife is so far refusing to take him back, and who can blame her She’s been humiliated and treated with contempt.
He’s not yet at death’s door: recent reports of his imminent demise, he says furiously, have been greatly exaggerated. But one thing is clear.
Whatever time he has left is corroded by the guilt and regret he feels at having been unfaithful.
And today, he longs for nothing more than to be back in the arms of the woman he so carelessly betrayed.
Forgive and forget To make mistakes is human, but to forgive is very difficult
Nor is he surprised that she is angry.
‘I deceived her and she’s annoyed. She is not just within her rights, she is perfectly justified. I am a reprehensible character who needs to clean up his act . . . I was a terrible husband. I deserve everything that has happened to me. I want to make that clear,’ he said.
Now that he needs more of a nurse than a lover, has his regret come too late
really hope not, though I don’t suppose his wife will ever be able to
forget about Miss Hood, the Cherry Ripe chocolate bar or the fact her
husband ‘devoured’ his former lover.
And yet, they have been married for more
than 40 years. They have two grown-up daughters and half a lifetime of
everything that makes up a marriage: not just the betrayals and
humiliations, the petty spite and pointless rows, but the shared
holidays and jokes, the quiet pride in bolstering each other through
sadnesses and setbacks, and the brimming joy of celebrating their
To err is human; to forgive is difficult, perhaps impossible. But it’s surely preferable to spending the rest of your life gnawed by guilt at not having nursed your husband at the end.
Clive James didn’t honour his marriage vows. But if his wife can find it in her heart to honour hers, her desperately ill husband won’t be the only one who feels better. She, and their children, will, too.
Their daughters will learn that no one is perfect, but that what matters in the end is overcoming bitterness. And their marriage will have survived not because of his infidelity but in spite of it.
Because contrary to what Catherine Hakim may think, what really makes a marriage work is not self-indulgence and internet sex but old-fashioned qualities that can’t be acquired with the click of a computer mouse: selflessness, trust and love.
What is the point of a new Mars bar with 20 per cent fewer calories Like a burger and chips, four-cheese pizzas and almond croissants, a Mars bar is something we eat when we’ve abandoned all pretence of being on a diet or, indeed, of ever being thin again. A bar containing 56 fewer calories makes no difference at all. Sometimes you just have to go for it.
Rebecca Adlington’s mother says her daughter was spurred to swimming glory by having two older sisters: she was always trying to beat them.
Judy Murray, meanwhile, says she has no doubt that being the youngest child was a great advantage to her son, Andy, as his elder brother Jamie — also a hugely gifted tennis player — provided constant competition.
I mention this only in case it provides some comfort to mothers whose children are trying to kill each other as the long summer holidays drag on.
Body confidence: Stunning Jennifer Aniston is using a body double for lingerie shots in her new film
The most striking thing about Madonna’s holiday photos wasn’t that she chose to wear trousers and a long-sleeved top while swimming, but that her 24-year-old lover looks to have more in common with her 15-year-old daughter. In fact, if I didn’t know better, I’d have thought the good-looking young man was merely helping the eccentric old dear back to shore.
In addition to running every day, Jennifer Aniston also works out with a combination of pilates, yoga and weights, and is ruthlessly controlled in her diet. The result is that, at 43, she has the body of a 20-year-old. Despite all this, we’re told she is using a body double for lingerie shots in her new film. All of which goes to prove the eternal truth that no woman, no matter how perfect, is ever truly happy with her bottom.
More from Sandra Parsons…
John Cleese This failed romantic is still fleeing the ghost of Sybil Fawlty
Part-time MP, chick lit author and social network entrepreneur… Louise Mensch and the sorry trend for celebrity politicians
Why so many 20-year-olds are failing to grow up
Stay at home Women are too smart to be told what to do
Katie paid the price of falling for a control freak
We treat children too softly to succeed. If they don't learn discipline at school, they'll never be worth hiring
If only new celebrity mums had tired eyes and sagging tums
Facelifts can’t hold back time but your mind can
VIEW FULL ARCHIVE
I watched Monday night’s TV documentary about Ian Brady with increasing annoyance.
We were presented with one gullible interviewee after another. What almost all had in common was a ghastly pride that they were clever enough to deal with what they appeared to agree was Brady’s towering intellect.
None of them seemed to realise that they, too, had been manipulated by the Moors Murderer; as, indeed, were we, the viewers.
We were told that Brady is a psychopath who thrives on power and control. We’ve known that for nearly 50 years.
What we don’t know is what drove him to murder five children — and despite an hour-long documentary, we’re none the wiser.
Poor Winnie Johnson, mother of Keith Bennett, died on Saturday night without ever discovering where her murdered son was buried.
Brady, meanwhile, has once more dominated the headlines and had an hour of prime-time TV devoted to him. He must be delighted.
Sailor Ben Ainslie says being bullied at school ‘toughened me up’. This explains his furious reaction during the Olympics when he was accused by a rival of hitting a buoy. ‘I thought, if you want to play like that, I will come back and wallop you harder!’ This is the best way to deal with a bully. As the saying goes, don’t get mad, get even. Better still, get as angry as Ainslie.
Courage: Ben Ainslie has said that the experience of being bullied has made him tougher
During the first Iraq war, I was sent to Germany to report on the mood among servicemen’s wives. The trip coincided with a visit by Prince Philip, and I’ve never forgotten his charisma. As he left Aberdeen Royal Infirmary this week, he told giggling nurses to behave themselves. And I guarantee they’ll be telling each other that despite being 91, he’s still one of the most attractive men they’ve ever met.
As a working mother I’m endlessly grateful that shops are open on Sunday.
Nevertheless, I entirely support Sainsbury’s chief executive Justin King, who says the extension of Sunday trading hours — brought in for the Olympics — must not be made permanent.
He says that relaxing Sunday trading laws further ‘is certainly not a magic answer to economic regeneration’, and that ‘maintaining Sunday’s special status has great merit for our colleagues and customers’.
I wouldn’t wish a return to the silent Sundays of my bored youth, when the only places that were open were churches and pubs (and even they shut at 2pm). But we need to have one day a week when we are free, if only for a few hours, from the constant pressure to work, shop, spend and consume.
Brainy: Kate Moss is said to have impressed TV physicist Professor Brian Cox
TV physicist Professor Brian Cox is said to have been astonished by Kate Moss’s knowledge of quantum physics when they chatted at a party. But Radio 1 DJ Nick Grimshaw, who’s just won the station’s top breakfast show slot, was less impressed when she gave him career advice, which was to arrive at work with a hangover occasionally or even not turn up at all. Despite this, her business assets have tripled in the past year to almost 12 million. I don’t know about physics, but she’s certainly a whizz at economics.