Wednesday 17 January 2018

Review: How to Stay Married: A Reissue of the 1969 Classic by Jilly Cooper

Jilly Cooper may cringe at her arrogant advice of 1969 but it's still peppered with wit, writes Margaret Carragher
Bantam Press, £9.99

Margaret Carragher

When journalist and author Jilly Cooper was first asked to write a book on how to stay married, she herself had been wed a mere seven years. Now, in the book's reissued version, launched to coincide with her golden wedding anniversary, Cooper writes of her horror, upon re-reading the 1969 original, to discover what a smug, opinionated little know-all she was back then.





"My recommendations were all so dogmatic," she cringes. "One moment I was warning wives under pain of divorce not to run out of toothpaste or loo paper, the next telling them how to detect if their husband was having an affair ... Oh dear, oh dear."

Back then, Cooper's own ambition had been "to marry a man I'd fallen madly in love with, who'd whisk me away from the squalor of the typing pool." As indeed she did, marrying publisher Leo Cooper, the love of her life, in 1961. And despite their trials and tribulations -- most notably Leo's long-standing affair in the Nineties which ended only when his lover Sarah Johnson went public with it -- the marriage has not just survived, but flourished.

"Marriage, I've always believed, is kept alive by bedsprings creaking as much from helpless laughter as from sex," says Cooper, who reckons her husband is the funniest person she's ever met. "We have now reached a stage in our marriage when we worry much less about screwing than unscrewing the top on the Sancerre bottle or the glucosamine pills."

Despite all that she laments her younger self's arrogance, Cooper reckons that there's good sense in much of her 1969 tome. Certainly once you get past tips such as bringing a red towel on honeymoon if you're a virgin, or stocking up on half crowns for the laundrette, much of Cooper's advice is timeless and all of infused with her inimitable jolly-hockey-sticks wit.

Dissing the notion of maniacally cleaning the house after a long day at work, she opines that: "If you amuse a man in bed he's not likely to bother about the mountain of dust underneath it."

Cooper's labour-saving ideas include employing a "daily lady" (even if she once arrived home from work early to find one of her own asleep alone in the marital bed with the electric blanket and the wireless on); and having lots of plumped-up cushions under which to stuff clutter when visitors arrive unannounced.

On the vexed issue of differing tastes -- "he may have a passion for flying ducks and Peter Scott and she may go a bundle on coloured plastic bulrushes and a chiming doorbell" -- Cooper reckons there's no time like the present for addressing it. "If after 10 years you suddenly tell your husband that it drives you mad every time he says 'Sit ye down' when guests arrive, he'll be deeply offended and ask you why you didn't complain before."

There again, she observes, it's often quirks which initially most irritate that, over the years, become the most loveable traits. Certainly there's no doubting Cooper's deep and abiding love for her husband, now stricken with Parkinson's disease and confined to a wheelchair.

In a recent interview she counted her blessings thus: "I've got Leo and my children and my grandchildren and my dogs. I've had 50 years with a convivial friend to go through life. He's sweet and his heroism is inspiring. How lucky am I?"

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