Back in the marital home, I sleep in lonely vigil on the sofa

Coming up to the fifth anniversary of the eviction from the family home and I am beginning to wonder whether it is even a good idea to remember the anniversary, let alone mark it. Not that there aren’t continual reminders of the condition, which start the moment I wake up and go on until I fall asleep (with occasional further reminders, sometimes surreally twisted, popping up from the id from time to time during the night).

And, of course, not being the kind of father who skips the country and/or refuses to do anything to contribute to the upkeep, spiritual and financial, of his offspring, I drop in on them so I can take them to cricket training sessions, deal with the occasional crisis (eg, cat fallen out of window) and generally do those things that a freelancer not shackled to an office can do.

Million-pound question

I remember once, long, long ago, hearing with an appalled thrill the words of the newly separated Bill Drummond relayed to me via a mutual friend: being divorced meant you still had to do the chores, the difference being that this time around you had absolutely no sex as a reward (as opposed, presumably, to the scant and resentful sex that categorises relationships nearing the very end of their tethers).

Wow, I thought, that sounds like the worst of all possible worlds, and resolved, for all the fat lot of good such a resolution eventually made, not to make the same mistake. As it turned out, Mr Drummond’s main mistake, as I interpret the chain of events, was to set up his post-marital home more or less across the road from the family one. This, clearly, was the move of a mug, or at least one more item of evidence that suggests he is a starry-eyed idealist rather than one capable of a clear assessment of where his own best interests might lie.

(He has form on this. My friend and I speculated what our own wives might say if, when we got in the front door and were asked how our day was, we’d replied “brilliant, I took that million pounds I earned from that song and burned it on a Scottish island as a work of conceptual art.” We doubted, somehow, that they would applaud the gesture.) To move across the road is simply to beg for exploitation. For what reasonable father can say no, when duty calls, if only a few feet of tarmac separate him from it?

Anyway, I made sure I did not fall into this trap by relocating about five miles away, or a 40-minute tube journey, door-to-door. Close enough to be able to get there in a real emergency, far enough away to say “not my problem” when something footling turns up, like running out of milk.

But sometimes this distance means that I am asked to stay the night while the children’s mother goes gallivanting off somewhere with whichever moustache-twirling Lothario has her in his clutches this time. (I jest. Her beau is in fact a man of great probity and sincere, if to me puzzling, religious beliefs and is – the important thing – Good With The Kids.)

So last Friday I pocketed the toothbrush and set off for my onetime demesne with instructions to look after the boys while the eldest daughter celebrated one of her best friends’ 17th birthday. This was going to take place in the house over the road, so it was felt that it might be a good idea if I was around should some kind of outrage take place. (Not the most unlikely of events. I am very fond of N–, the friend concerned, but I sleep easier in my bed knowing she is not my responsibility.)

What’s new, pussycat?

Anyway, it’s odd, going back to the former home. The cat, who either has a very bad memory or a very good one, still assumes I have full visiting rights, or at least suspects I know how to open the tin of Whiskas, so I get a proper welcome from her; there might be a new kitchen and a new loft conversion but the basic layout of the place is unchanged and I can stumble in the dark down the corridor for a pee without forgetting where the steps are.

But it is not my Home. There being no spare beds in the house, I sleep on the sofa in the living room: to sleep on either side of the vacant marital bed would make me uneasy. It is not a sofa that induces sleep easily, though, and the bedding is perforce rudimentary.

So I lie in lonely vigil for my daughter’s bacchanalia to end, listening to the whoops and shrieks from over the road. In the end I go over after lunch the next day and find that she and her friend haven’t even been to bed yet. She confesses to being a little spaced out. “Welcome to my world,” I say.

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 02 July 2012 issue of the New Statesman, Clegg the martyr