THERE is no arguing with the fact that a couple married for 75 years must have been doing something right.
Yes, but what? Well, the clue lies in my first few words. Prepare to nod your head sagely in agreement as I tell you it is this: arguing.
Joseph Littlewood, 98, and wife Sally, 99, say it has been the secret of their long life together. Mrs Littlewood got straight to the point when asked the usual question about their secret: "Argue lots but always remember to get over it."
I have no argument with the Lancashire couple's prescription. Time and time again I have seen bickering couples prosper, while reserved and outwardly united pairings go to the wall.
Not always, of course. You read of long-linked couples who say: "We've never had an argument in our lives. Isn't that right. Albert?" Albert: "No."
Bickering should be taught at Higher Grade level in our schools and ought to feature more in evening class schedules. It is a skill and, unless it is all nature and cannot be nurtured, it is one that must be worked at.
I cannot bicker and, indeed, choose not to. I go out of my way to avoid it. On rare occasions in the past when drawn into it, the results have been catastrophic. I put it down to my devastating intellect leading my opponent or partner to feel humiliated. There are alternative explanations, but I would not insult your intelligence by airing them here.
Put two earthlings together in a room and bickering is almost certain to erupt eventually. The alternative to bickering is huffing, a childish practice much more common in adulthood than childhood. There must be a middle way between the two: bit of bicker, bit of huff then - the crucial bit as adduced above - get over it.
With luck, we will be over it on September 19, when the independence referendum is done and the people will have spoken with one syllable. Certainly, if bickering is good for you, Scotland must be in a rude state of health, with "rude" perhaps being the mot juste at the moment.
The nation is having an argument. In any normal country, of course, there would not be much of an argument about running your own affairs. It is different here, though. Scotland is not a country. It is an illness.
Then again, it would be a dull world if we all agreed about everything all the time. It would, indeed, be agreeable, a state that cannot always co-exist with excitement. And I think we have all had enough excitement for the time being.
It is easy to get drawn into an argument. We all know people who try it on invariably after a few drinks and I have become skilled at — and even enjoy — diplomatically declining to be drawn in. It is not always possible for everybody.
Many observers on all sides were surprised when the normally measured Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon got involved in an on-air spat with Johann "Stairheid rammy" Lamont, leader of Her Majesty's Opposition in Scotia Minor.
But, if someone is trying to talk over you, what do you do? I suppose it is up to the chairman/woman to impose order. In the absence of that, you could just let the rammier rant, but you would effectively be handing them the floor to make their case.
See? It is complicated. It is a skill. An interesting thing about Joseph and Sally, the old couple who bickered amicably through thick and thin, is that they courted for six years before tying the knot. They must have had the measure of each other by then.
Know your enemy or spouse would seem to be a good idea. It is one of many reasons why online arguing is so putrid. No one knows who is behind the pseudonym. You go on the Corncockle Spotters website and find delightful exchanges of notes on page one. By page five they are threatening to burn each other's houses down and alleging their fellow debater couldn't tell a corncockle from an indehiscent amaranth.
'Tis the tangled way of the web. But beyond all bickering, back in the real world Mrs Littlewood added this helpful little insight: "We still love each other." Can't argue with that.
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