A lucrative double vacancy for ambitious media professionals has just become available. No outstanding writing skills are required but the two applicants should have a high threshold for personal embarrassment. They will also need to be a married couple and hate one another. Applications from adulterers, slobs and domestic sadists will be particularly welcome.
Mrs and Mr Dhaliwal, the journalists Liz Jones and Nirpal Dhaliwal, are to get divorced. In one last, exhausted act of marital unity, they have each revealed in the national press that their marriage is over, achieving in their columns a synchronicity that, according to their own reports, they rarely achieved in their intimate life. It has been good to them, this bad marriage, providing writing material and thousands of pounds, but sadly nothing that dreadful can last for ever.
Sensible, high-minded readers will not have heard of Jones or Dhaliwal. They will not have read about his countless infidelities, her weight problems, nor will they have had their stomachs churned by various revolting revelations from the marriage bedroom and bathroom. The rest of us may occasionally have come across the vitriolic outpourings of one or other of their columns and will have read it rather as one watches a peculiarly demeaning reality TV show. The great age of self-improvement, we discovered, had been replaced by something altogether nastier – the anti-morality tale. Here was a couple who were prepared to reveal how not to be married.
Invading your own privacy for copy has long been a staple of modern journalism. The inside poop on finding a boyfriend, bringing up a child or being a single dad was well covered. Various candid cancer columns were published. Eventually and inevitably, it was time for someone to hang out the dirty linen of a miserable marriage for fun and profit.
Neither Jones nor Dhaliwal is a good writer, but cruelty is compelling. Reading them bitch about one another may make you want to wash your hands afterwards, but you read it all the same. In both their own columns and that of their spouse/enemy, they emerged as a truly grim couple. He was lazy, deceitful and randy; she was sanctimonious, bullying, and neurotic. At a certain point, every bad marriage becomes a stagger from one tired cliché to another but theirs, presented in the grim, identikit style of modern me-journalism, seemed unusually banal.
For them, rowing in print was a good career move. But what was in it for their readers? Judging from Jones’s last trip to the misery well, she thinks she is representative of her gender and age. “My generation of women, capable divas that we are, have reduced men to poor creatures who can’t even change a light bulb,” she wrote, sickeningly. Doubtless her husband believed he spoke for the downtrodden, yet defiantly horny, modern male.
In truth, they were grotesques – a clownish version of coupledom’s worst nightmare. People read about them not because they felt similar to them but because they are worse than reality. They were anti role models.
Jones confessed that she tried to give up writing about her husband but quickly returned to the fray. “I owed a bit of honesty to all those thousands of women out there who blame themselves for their husbands’ affairs, feel inadequate, ugly and old.” Behind this boastfulness lies personal ambition and egotism.
The toughest break for Mr and Mrs Dhaliwal will not be from one another, but from the addictive buzz of confession in print.
A royal reception for Edward
During this season of award ceremonies, surely the most exciting moment came when we discovered the celebrity whom ITV viewers voted as the Greatest Living Briton. Robbie Williams would have his supporters, but then so would Baroness Thatcher. Dame Julie Andrews has provided melodic moments, as has Sir Paul McCartney. In the end, perhaps no one could deny that the most glorious star was the Queen. The event answered another question: whatever happened to Prince Edward? The nicest member of the Windsor family accepted the award on his mother’s behalf. The Queen plays the celebrity game with a starchy reluctance.
It is fortunate that her youngest son is so good at playing that difficult royal-but-normal role.
* Clear-eyed and healthy lunged, the opponents of tobacco are advancing on to new battlegrounds. In just over a month, the small companionable pleasure of enjoying other people’s smoke in a pub or club will be a thing of the past. Now it is claimed by a sinister-sounding organisation called the Association of Local Safety Officers that driving a car while smoking is dangerous, or unhealthy, or… something.
The case is supported by “some evidence from an Australian university that found that those who smoke have more crashes than those who do not”.
With this level of scientific rigour, perhaps the moment has come for new Smoking Enforcement Officers to become pro-active. It is surely a scandal that thousands of men and women shamelessly light up a cigarette after sex, thereby risking a terrifying range of health and safety hazards: fire, second-hand smoke, a nasty burn on naked skin, and so on. Let’s extend the concept of safe sex and ban the post-coital cigarette.