Back in the late 1990s I was a fully signed up boxset-owning member of the Cold Feet generation. The tangled and oh-so-familiar intricacies of the relationships of Adam and Rachel, Pete and Jenny, and Karen and David, fuelled endless chatter with office colleagues and girlfriends.
Their dramas and dilemmas as they faced infertility, affairs and the everyday drudgery of looking after small children were ours. Relatable, witty and utterly absorbing, Cold Feet touched our national psyche, just as Friends did in the US.
The cast return for a new series next month. They are now fiftysomethings, with receding hairlines and a extra chins – not exactly comfortable viewing for any of us.
Back in the late 1990s I was a fully signed up boxset-owning member of the Cold Feet generation. The tangled and oh-so-familiar intricacies of the relationships of Adam and Rachel, Pete and Jenny, and Karen and David, fuelled endless chatter with office colleagues and girlfriends
Rachel has long been off the scene, killed in a car crash, leaving man-child Adam to bring up their son. He is now chasing much younger women. Pete and Jenny had been trying for a second child before they split up, but have now married for a second time. Posh dimwit David and his wife Karen – who was sick of being an at-home mum – divorced. Karen runs a publishing house.
None has stayed the course of the perceived traditional happy life plan: a long marriage with 2.4 children.
Looking at my own circle of Cold Feet friends, it makes me question what really does bring happiness. Over the past 18 years among my group, there have been infidelities, divorces, childlessness, alcoholism and second marriages. And a few long unions. But who is truly the happiest?
A clever friend, who I’ll call Lucy, was married to a successful businessman, living in a windy mansion – and miserable. Impulsive and driven, she filed for divorce, determined to find her soulmate. She found her man, married him and had children, only to decide he wasn’t the one either and promptly divorced.
But after 12 months of dating, she underwent her epiphany. Perfection wasn’t out there after all and she returned to her second husband where a new understanding – and happiness – is thriving.
Suzanne, meanwhile, was the beauteous office girl in an investment bank. She married the handsome boss, who at 55 was 23 years her senior. Oh the nights over bottles of wine when we tried to deter her. Did she really want to be pushing him around in a wheelchair by the time she was 55? It wasn’t the route to happiness, we chided.
Last summer, we gathered for her 50th. While she is still statuesque and beautiful, I had to suppress a gasp at the stooped and frail figure clutching her hand. But he clearly worships her and she basks in that glow. They are now abroad to see in the New Year. And despite not having children, she is ironically perhaps the most content of my girlfriends from that era.
Joanne, on the other hand, seemed to have it all. She dated guys who made David Gandy look plain. Her wedding was spectacular: she glided into church in a £6,000 twinkling Suzanne Neville dress with six bridesmaids bobbing behind.
Today she has four gorgeous children and a house that wouldn’t look out of place in Homes & Gardens. She doesn’t work – not counting working out and planning dinner party menus. Her life seemed close to perfection. But over a latte last summer, she tearfully told me it was a facade.
She and her husband have slept in different rooms for three years. She’s convinced he’s gay or in an affair, and she’s driving herself insane with elaborate attempts to find out. Few who see them cheering at their son’s football matches would ever know.
My oldest male friend, who spent 20 years with a wife who painfully put him down in public, has finally divorced. He now lives in a tiny flat but he is relieved and happy.
New Year is a time when we tend to reflect on our lives and where we’re going. We often judge ourselves by those around us. That’s why Cold Feet resonates so much. It shows with honesty how nobody has that perfect life.
And, most importantly, how liberating it is when you no longer feel under pressure to chase that mirage of perfection. It’s not always where happiness lies.
That’s not the weigh to do it
To coincide with the nation’s Christmas excesses, Public Health England has cooked up an ill-thought-out assault on child obesity. Proposals include a limit of 544 calories for supermarket ready-meals, 1,040 for pizzas, and 951 for main courses in restaurants.
Food industry critics called the plans ‘insane, arbitrary and unscientific’. And those who view gorging yourself to death on cheeseburgers and buckets of sugary drinks as a freedom-of-choice issue are similarly incensed.
Yet the challenge is plain: one in four five-year-olds is overweight or obese, a figure which rises to one in three by the time children are 11.
Obesity costs the NHS £6.1 billion and rising. Obesity is so bad in Scotland – it’s the No 1 health problem – that oversized fridges have been installed at some NHS mortuaries to store bodies.
The proposals make no sense: cutting down on pizza ingredients or making sandwiches thinner is more likely to encourage snacking. For busy parents it’s tempting to resort to easy pizza dinners, which have the added bonus of being a guaranteed hit. The battle is not helped by the soaring cost of fresh vegetables, and the fact that junk food, especially takeaways, is so cheap and delivered via various apps in minutes.
A better long-term plan would be to force supermarkets to bring down veg costs; have simple yet nutritious recipe ideas in the aisles; and, most critically, teach our youngsters to cook easy, healthy meals as part of the school curriculum.
Aside from reading, writing and numeracy, knowing how to cook for yourself should be a compulsory life lesson.
I’m sure willowy Nicole Kidman chose the polka-dot frilly bikini she wore on a Sydney beach last week to give more shape to her lithe, boyish figure. But if you don’t want to look like an outsize model from the Younger Girls swimwear pages of a Next catalogue, I always believe in leaving the flounces to the under-fives.
Hey Alexa, can you self-destruct in five seconds, please? The newest member of our family – a drum of artificial intelligence from Santa Claus (aka Amazon) – had me climbing the walls by Boxing Day.
Repeated requests from my five-year-old for sweets to be delivered, and sniggering invitations from a passing teenager to go out on a date (‘Sorry, tonight I am busy answering questions and learning’ was Alexa’s tactful response) added an extra level of irritation to Christmas.
I’m all for the futuristic world in which we live, but why do robot aids have such droning and annoying voices?
A casualty of MeToo?
A brilliant lawyer and father of two little girls was found dead at the bottom of 150ft cliffs hours after being accused of ‘inappropriate’ behaviour at his office Christmas party.
I don’t know how badly behaved Geraint Thomas was – or, indeed, if he was. But I would guess that the party, like so many, got a bit messy. Booze flows and things are said and done that are regretted in the cold light of day.
What we do know is two women complained about his behaviour and he was told he was under formal investigation. Within hours he was dead. The company called him a ‘truly exceptional lawyer’. His accusers are said to be ‘devastated’.
Both statements suggest that Geraint, 47, may be a casualty of over-zealous strictures in the wake of the #MeToo movement.
The finger of blame, the knee-jerk prosecution, the tragic end of a brilliant life. How I feel for his poor wife Rebecca and young daughters.
You don’t have to be a body language expert to see the BBC’s Justin Webb subconsciously covering his middle-aged spread as he shoots the breeze with Today programme guest editor Angelina Jolie, above. In the tender gaze of Hollywood’s very own Venus flytrap, his expression says: ‘I think she likes me, there’s chemistry, I’m sure of it.’ No Justin, I’m afraid Angie might be single right now, but she still has great acting skills.