When, back in the mists of history, I proposed to Mrs Oakley (in the rather naff Caribbean cocktail bar of what seemed at the time to be a fashionable London venue patronised by a set we could not afford to join) I prefaced my question with a long preview about the perils of marrying a journalist. Fortunately, she did not take me seriously.
A young CNN producer told me the other day that she was warned on starting her journalism course in a Spanish university that the failure rate for marriages in our trade was worse than any other. But Mrs O has stuck with it through a train-wreck life of cancelled dinner parties, curtailed holidays and mortally offended ex-friends with more predictable occupations.
My Christmas reading has consoled me that she could have done worse. She could have married a jump jockey.
In public there have been few more amiable, intelligent and good-tempered National Hunt riders in the past 20 years than Mick Fitzgerald, for so long the stable jockey to Nicky Henderson in Lambourn. But the private side he reveals in Better Than Sex — My Autobiography (Racing Post, £18.99) is a fearsome warning to any lady thinking of taking up with a rider over obstacles.
Before his first marriage he told his wife that his career came first. The day he rode a treble at the Cheltenham Festival she wasn’t there and he reflected, ‘She just wasn’t a factor, she was largely irrelevant. I was going to Cheltenham with four good rides on Gold Cup Day and that was massive. What my wife did that day was not even a green dot on my radar.’ Even if he did later feel guilty and leave the celebration party to go home.