Divorce scenes are seldom edifying

The celebrity cook Nigella Lawson attracted much general sympathy – as well as widespread media reportage – during accusations in court by her ex-husband that she had used cocaine and behaved badly to her daughter. Iíve met Nigella and she is a nice person: her brother Dominic Lawson, for whom I have worked, is one of the most stalwart of pro-life media commentators in the British media. Dominic and his wife Rosa Moncton are the parents of a Downís Syndrome daughter and Dominic became a fierce and admirable defender of the right to life when it was medically suggested that his unborn child should be ëterminatedí. He has since also written with great intellectual vigour against assisted suicide.


Nigella – whose late mother, Vanessa Salmon, was a renowned beauty from a cultivated, upper-class Jewish family – suffered many bereavements by the time she was 40, losing her mother, her sister, and her first husband John Diamond to cancer.

She deserves sympathy for the difficulties she has encountered, and recently the unkindness, also aired in court, from her divorced husband Charles Saatchi.

However, my memory did go back to the divorce reforms that were ushered into British law in the 1960s and ë70s: once divorce became liberalised, the late Home Secretary Roy Jenkins promised, there would be no more 'acrimonious' divorces, no more laundering of private linen in public, and no more unedifying scenes of ex-spouses hurling horrid accusations against one another across a court-room – let alone quarrelling about money. ëCivilisedí divorce would mean a dignified and amicable parting of the ways.

Human nature

Alas, no: laws may change, but human nature does not.

As the London High Court judge, Sir Paul Coleridge said last week, the cost of divorce and family breakdown is primarily measured in ìsheer pain and human suffering for all the adults and children involved. And in lives permanently affected to a greater or lesser extentî.

A sadder and wiser judgement than the naive prediction that liberal divorce would render the dissolution of marriage so, so 'civilised'.

Caring for carers

I have been enormously touched, and indeed humbled, by much kind reaction to an autobiographical essay* I have written called The Reluctant Carer, being a personal account of how I have sometimes struggled with conflicting emotions in the care of my disabled husband over the past decade. So many people are truly saintly in the selfless way they dedicate their lives to the care of someone they love, completely altruistically, absorbed in the needs of a spouse or parent who is ill, disabled or elderly. I said to a colleague of mine who cares for his wife who has Alzheimer’s that caring could be very demanding, Yes, he agreed it was sometimes tiring, and yet, he added “it’s a privilege to care for someone I love”.

Being a carer has made me aware of my shortcomings: but it has also revealed to me how much goodness and kindness there is in the world, often from unexpected sources. Several carers have mentioned to me incidents where they were struggling with a wheelchair in public, and it’s some rough-seeming lad who might have been written off as a delinquent who turns out to be extraordinarily helpful. “I’ve learned not to judge people by appearances,” one carer told me.

And that, of course, is one of the themes of the Good Samaritan.

But carers need time off, too, and that is where community support is so precious. And that’s another lesson I’ve learned. ‘Love thy neighbour’ is not just good advice: it can often be necessary advice, for without a sense of community we are atomised into a lonely and alienated individualism.

*This is part of a collection just published called Something of Myself – and Others.


History evolves

There is a suggestion that The Spire – that glinting monument in Dublin’s O’Connell Street – should be named after Nelson Mandela, for the celebrations of 2016. Nelson Mandela was a great man, and his attitude of forgiveness to those who had ill-treated him and oppressed his people was a vivid example of a Christian virtue. His Bible-based Methodist formation was not lost on his values and horizons.

Yet it would be incongruous to name The Spire for Mandela, and his cause. The Irish revolutionaries of 1916, whom we shall be commemorating in 2016, frequently and insistently expressed their admiration and support for the Afrikaner Boers, not for the oppressed ‘kaffirs’, as South African blacks were called in the past. Arthur Griffith and Maud Gonne MacBride, in particular, were vehemently pro-Boer – and of course Major John MacBride fought on the Afrikaner side in the Boer war. The Afrikaner Boers were the same people who devised the loathed system of ‘apartheid’, which means ‘separate development’ in the Afrikaans language, derived from Dutch.

History evolves, and people learn from experience and change their minds and Irish Republicanism stopped being pro-Afrikaner by the middle of the 20th Century. Revising history is often an enlightening process. But it should not be hypocritical or dishonest, and to pretend that Mandela’s struggle against apartheid is in harmony with the symbols of 1916 would simply be mendacious.