Meet my ex-in-laws - I think

By Paul Lester, September 2, 2010

I would like to take this opportunity to apologise to my parents, who will inevitably be reading this, because, in the three years that I have been living in my house, I have never quite got round to inviting them over for tea. But I did have my in-laws over last week.

Did I say in-laws? I meant ex-in-laws. The parents of my ex-wife. Outlaws? No, that's not right, although I believe there is the shady matter of an overdue library book when they were crazy young marrieds that we won't go into here.

Finding the correct term of address is tricky. Do they, like the President of the United States, retain their title even after they have "left office"? And what is my relationship to them now? I never know how to announce myself on the few occasions that we speak on the phone. "Hello, it's Paul, your former son-in-law" always seems a bit unwieldy, and the time I said: "Hi, it's Paul, 1993-2007" just confused them.

Once I went for: "Paul Lester here, the man who tried in vain to entertain your daughter for most of the '90s and noughties", but they thought it was a crank call and hung up.

The reason for the invitation was simple: I'd just decorated my kids' bedrooms. Well, I hadn't -–someone vaguely good with their hands, i.e: a non-Jewish male, had and I wanted them to see where their grandchildren spend half their week. It would be, I thought, like when a celebrity unveils a new shopping centre, only without the ribbon and champagne and rubber-necking pedestrians.

When I told people what I'd done, they were amazed. One said I was "brave", another called me "dark", while a third reckoned I was "hardcore".

Be serious. Inviting my ex-father- and mother-in-law (hereafter referred to as FIL and MIL) over for bagels and strudel wasn't really all that extreme. The most you could say about it was that it would probably be like an episode of that new Simon Amstell sitcom, only funny.

And so it turned out. They turned up late due to FIL's perennial insistence on driving at the optimum velocity for maximum petrol consumption - he's the only person I know to have been pulled over by the police on a motorway not for speeding but for SLOWING. I'm not making this up - he once got a ticking off for being under the limit, which is a bit like getting an ASBO for being excessively polite in a built-up area.

By the time they arrived, sweets in hand (Haribo Smurfs - yum, thanks), I was rushing my kishkas out trying to keep the drinks hot, the salt beef warm and the cakes cold. When MIL entered the kitchen she was unimpressed to find the drinks cold, the salt beef colder and the cakes being used as Frisbees by more than one member of the family.

I didn't know whether I was coming or going. At one point, I left the dining room for two seconds to fill the kettle, and when I came back I'd forgotten that I'd left my slice of sponge on a plate on my chair and sat on it. It immediately assumed the shape of a pancake. Still, I'd always wanted to know how to make latkes, and this seemed as convenient a way as any.

Fortunately, unlike Queen Victoria, MIL was amused, and I got the royal go-ahead to write this column, in case any of you were worried that I was going to be spending YomTov in court.

Last updated: 4:15pm, September 3 2010