The title for this blog post comes from a cursory bit of research I did a few days ago. What did people sleep on in antiquity? The obvious off-the-top answer would be “a filthy mat of straw, animal droppings, and live animals” but it turns out the answer is fascinating. The ancient Egyptians built tiny, curved football goalposts as headrests. The word ‘mattress’ comes from Arabic and basically was a mat or pile of cushions, which the crusaders thought was pretty neat and adopted the idea, prompting me to ask what the hell were the Crusaders sleeping on before they realized cushions was a good idea?!
But it’s not just for the actual bed material — it’s also the social function of a bed. Romans for instance lived in a bed culture. Well-to-do citizens divided their rooms by bed usage. There was a sleep bed, a sex bed, a bed for eating in, a bed for studying in, and a party bed — domestic life was really a rotation between different rooms for lying down. The Greeks had a similar thing going: in traditional symposium (semiritualized kegger) all the couches were arranged in a rectangle and everyone reclined on their left side, ate a meal course, and then the house slaves mixed wine and water into a giant bowl. Then the guests would all chat about love, beauty, war, the gods, the inflation of the drachma, whether they should restrict the sale of giant spears and bows to under-21s. All at a bed party. The 17th century was the magnificent one for beds, apparently. Fat cushions, drapes, four-posters, canopies all became the norm for the unbelievably wealthy.
I was conducting research on this because the mattress in our house in West Norwood was terrible. Every morning we both woke up with our vertebre rattling around in our ribcages. Our inherited mattress had a layer of the much-celebrated ‘memory foam’ which, along with conforming to your body’s every curve, supported none of them. So, to the Swedes.
We went to Ikea, where I’d never been before, and bought a roll. They sell mattresses in rolls. Because it was an additional 35 pounds to have it delievered, we called an Uber. The driver took off his shades when he saw us in with the roll in the parking lot, and said simply “the doors won’t close.” Since we have been living in Turkey, we ignored what the cab driver had to say, stuffed it in, unrolled the top window, and gently eased the door shut. It fit. The guy shrugged. [Side note: 100% of our (two) uber drivers in this town have been entrepreneurial men with Pakistani roots but who were raised in London. Both complained about immigrants. Both had luxurious cars.] We have the Daily Sabah to thank for the purchase of our new discount Swedish mattress: I put it on my Turkish card and spent a small fortune in liras.
We hauled the mattress roll upstairs, cut the plastic, and watch the whole thing…inflate? expand? on our bedroom floor. As a rolled Ikea mattress unfurls, it makes a splendid series of noises — sproingy pops, gasping whooshes, deep alien groans. It takes three days for it to fully relax into its new configuration, so we had to recline on the saggy disaster cot for another three sleeps.
BUT WHAT A THREE-DAY STRETCH IT WAS. Harriet got a job as an “account manager” for her friend’s “Creative Content Agency”. I registered at a recruitment company because, as it turns out, finding jobs here is extraordinarily hard, so you need one or more companies actively looking for jobs for you. What? We won cheap tickets to see the Book of Mormon on the West End (this didn’t actually happen during this three-day stretch of bed waiting, it happened about a week ago; but Harriet did download the soundtrack in those three days, and now all of those songs are burned into my noggin from now until Kingdom Come). Asli visited from Istanbul to do a stand-up show in Turkish with a few other Turkmedians at the Eastern European Comedy festival, and Harriet and I watched our first ever second-language comedy show. Thankfully two out of four on the slate had been raised in the UK and their jokes were phrased rather simply, or were based around the same sort of Turkish-English puns we’ve been making stupidly to ourselves for years.* And Asli’s jokes we either know already, or she’s so emotive it’s easy to follow. And we went to pub quiz again and we invited everyone we had even the flimsiest connection to in this town, and they all showed up and we had a wonderful time, and we won and plowed all our earnings into free drinks. And there was a winter storm called “Beast from the East” which turned London into a snowy blowy Canadian prarie city. (Just kidding ha ha ha it’s like 25 C colder in Winnipeg). And we finally got a contract from the agency for our apartment. (It’s a long story but yes, they hadn’t given it to us yet, and yes they’re terrible. We got the contract, in any case.)
In any case, it was a pretty magnificent three days. We’ll see about the rest of the century.
“Evet sen kim?”
“Yes, I’m Ben Kim.”