My wife ran off with the builder. And you think you’re neurotic?

By Paul Lester
September 24, 2008

Not that I want you to feel sorry for me or anything, but my wife left me last year for the chap who was doing up our house. So now I’ve got three things in common with Larry David — a neurotic dislike of most social situations, not a great deal of hair, and an ex with a predilection for Men Who Can.

Don’t get me wrong — I would have felt just as humiliated if she’d run off with our dentist or even our mortgage adviser. But there was something doubly upsetting about the fact that she chose someone who can put up a shelf while juggling a spirit-level and a copy of The Sun when, frankly, I’m useless at either.

Suddenly, after 14 years with an unusually practical Jewish woman, I was faced with the frightening prospect of doing everything myself — including the washing, working heavy machinery (my brand-new Indesit weighs a ton) and dusting my piles of pristine rock magazines. I’m an anally retentive freelance journalist who writes album and concert reviews and interviews musicians for a living.

Yes, as far as my dear departed was concerned, it was out with the bloke who has every issue of the New Musical Express between the height of punk and the dawn of new romantic, and in with the fella who owns enough power tools to demolish and reconstruct a small Welsh village.
I had to feel sorry for her. A bit, anyway. I mean, when she first announced she had feelings for the builder, “the credit crunch” was just the sound your Barclaycard makes when you stamp on it. Now she’s got a handyman with an emptier schedule than Ken Livingstone.

Then again, you haven’t experienced genuine financial terror until you’ve tried to run a home as a single father with shared custody of three children based on the income you get from asking Janet Jackson why she decided to expose her left breast during the Superbowl, or from trying to ascertain whether Johnny Mathis is gay or straight when really all he wants to do is tell you how groundbreaking his latest CD is (for the record, he loves “all people, male or female, black or white” — gay, then).

Being a single dad with three kids at infants and junior school can be fun, with “can” and “be” the operative words. I know being a Jew in a predominantly Christian country automatically guarantees a sense of alienation, but I assumed from all the statistics that I’d be one of many divorcees in the playground. Call me gullible, but I believed all those reports about two in three marriages ending in divorce. Maybe they do in Hackney or Hull, but not in leafy, suburban Watford they don’t. You could hear the tumbleweed blow by as I negotiated a lonely path through all the happily married mums and dads on that first day after news broke of our impending split. I felt like Clint Eastwood riding into the desert town of Lagos at the climax to High Plains Drifter. Only without the horse, cigar, or aura of a supernatural avenger.

It’s not that I’m willing other couples to break up, but one or two would be nice. Last week I had to go to my first barmitzvah without the Lady Formerly Known As Mrs Lester. Hello, is that the Samaritans? I thought I knew all about misery, despair and the cruel hand of fate from being a Watford FC supporter as a boy, but nothing quite prepared me for the crippling fear I felt as I walked into the Holiday Inn in Borehamwood, dressed like an extra from a Jewish version of Reservoir Dogs, without a partner. I did think of paying the hotel receptionist to join me for the part where the master of ceremonies announces your arrival, but her outfit clashed with mine. During the slow-dance section of the evening I also considered asking the only other single woman in the room to join me on the floor, but she was too busy serving coffee. Plus I don’t speak Croatian.

Still, at least I got to tell everyone I know my divorce story in gory detail. I did get some sympathy, although I could swear at certain points they drifted off.

Mostly, though, they were rapt, barely containing their delight at every ghastly anecdote. Is it just me, or do Jews more than any other group get a kick out of hearing about other people’s misfortunes? Maybe it’s the way I tell ’em.


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