I live in an Edwardian (maybe?) brick townhouse constructed sometime around WWI (When was Edward the king?). Next door in number 50 (it’s a duplex) are Gary, the petty South London criminal, his mother Sharon (maybe? To be honest have forgotten) and his friend Edward (not a king). To our left in 54 are Wanda the Brazilian communications PhD candidate, her husband Charles the lawyer, and their children Sophia the Compulsively Practicing Pianist, and Henry the Really Loud Yeller.

We are in 52, Selsdon Road, just up from the village of West Norwood, which boasts one of the finest historic cemetaries in all of London. Here are the residents of our home:

1. Nina.

“Nina’s good at murdering. And disposal of the bodies.” – Caera

“That’s true. I’m who you’d call first.” -Nina

Nina grew up very Catholic in a place called Stoke-on-Trent, where people talk incomprehensibly and very fast, and call each other ‘duck’. Nina talks fairly normally now, does not go to church, and does not call anyone duck. Quack.

Nina’s a mental health nurse in an adolescent ward and spends her time shepherding around depressed teens all day. This had given her a very practical outlook on life and a deep appreciation for creature comforts. If she ever were to wallow in her own misery, it would be properly indulgent wallowing: get a bottle of moody wine, put on sad movies, wear footie pajamas, eat takeout and cake — and then move the hell on. Nina’s very certain of herself and enjoys the opportunity to let you in on the secrets to life.

Sometimes, she is called upon to prove it. For her friend Mary’s wedding, she and another friend had been asked to bake a round of cupcakes. She decided that not only would she upstage friend B with some gourmet offerings, she would make three kinds of cakey delights. She spent several months perfecting and testing her recipes (we got to try a few batches — strawberries and cream cakes, mojito cupcakes, champagne cupcakes). She then bought a cupcake ferris wheel to display them.

Unique among English people I have met, Nina says exactly what she means. What you see is what you get.

2. Caera.

Caera is what would happen if you took a high-intensity doolailey grandma, distilled her into the smallest most concentrated form, and de-aged her to give her superhuman energy. Caera is absolutely bats.

Nina and Ceara have many superficial similarities on paper, but have very different approaches to life. Both are mental health nurses. Both are vegetarians. Both enjoy strange English things that are incomprehensible to me. The similarities end there.

Caera is a bit of a people pleaser and a great listener, and has a tendancy to just let her mind wander wherever it wanders as you’re speaking together. She is never quite sure whether her whimsy is her own or someone else’s that she accidentally picked up, like some communicable virus. She spends so much time accidentally doing things she didn’t really intend to do, storing that energy in subconscious batteries, and then releasing it in a frightening productive fury upon: the garden, the kitchen, odd domestic projects. She’ll suggest an idea that makes absolutely no sense, know that it makes no sense, defend it, deny she ever defended it, and then implement it, all within the same sentence.

Her and Nina form a formidable team. They drunk one night and ordered a life-size cardboard cutout of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle off ebay. They have planned a dead celebrities themed Halloween party. They do cross stitching and watch movies together in the living room, gossiping. They’re basically a two-woman sitcom.

3. Ellie.

When I first met Ellie, I dismissed her out of hand. She was strange and quiet and didn’t really make eye contact. I usually have a pretty good sense for people, so I figured we just wouldn’t really get along. I could not have been more wrong. She is by far one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met.

Ellie has carved out a life for herself way, way in the margins of society. She is a part-time cat-sitter, giving food and insulin to the diabetic felines of the wealthy. She scrounges off welfare benefits and dumpster dives for food. She bikes everywhere. She is also a vegetarian, but for strict ethical reasons. Actually, everything she does is for strict ethical or ecological reasons. She ferments her own saurkraut and bakes her own sourdough bread. Her cabinets in the kitchen smell potently of yeasts. She runs a variety of community arts groups – a queer improv theatre troupe, a “laughter yoga” class, an effective altruism ethical meetup group, a standup comedy clinic.

You would guess absolutely none of this because the overall impression is “mess”. She wears the same clothes everyday and her room looks like a warren. But she just does not give a single solitary fuck about anything that people in a society are supposed to do. I have a lot of respect for that kind of commitment. We have a lot of good talks about the merits of puns and ethical philosophy. Ellie isn’t at the house much, as she’s usually out catsitting, but you can always tell when she’s in because there’s cabbage strewn all over the kitchen and a podcast blaring.

4. Harriet and Ernie.

Well, obviously.

5. Mavis.

Mavis is a cat. She was a stray when Caera adopted her a year and a half ago, and she acted very skittish towards people for a long time. Picked a lot of catfights with the big grey cat nextdoor. Now she just stalks me around the house because she’s realized I will feed her if Caera’s coming home late.

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I had a dream that God rose above the horizon, pointed at me, and started telling me to get people to prevent the impending collapse of society. God took the form of a giant klingon with dreadlocks who had squid arms and giant lobster claws. When he spoke, it was like when you’re trying to get a really old shitty pair of headphones to work by turning them around in the jack, only I had no headphones. This made sense, in the dream, because it was all sort of divine language, and it makes sense in the 21st century instead of angels he’d use technology. A group of scientists and myself had done some pretty wacky experiments on each other (one of them had a single antler growing straight up, like an oak tree, out of the top of his head) and we were just trying to enjoy ourselves in a symposium-like fashion of sitting around and chit-chatting about the good times, waiting for society to collapse, when we had to step outside and see this very strange vision. There were some other bits involving two lesbian secret agents and two gay secret lovers, time travel, and a death highway that we had to cross in order deliver the recordings to the past. I think the dream was: a metaphor. At least I hope it was. Honestly at this point I find the apparition of God in the form of a giant klingon with dreadlocks and squid arms and lobster claws to be far more plausible than some bearded ghost. The 21st century is a strange time to be alive.

Hello, my name is Ernie, and besides the details of my very interesting dreams, I have the basics about my life to share with you all:

1. I currently work in a plant shop run by an irascible Scottish man named Ian and his partner Anne, who runs the homewares/kitchen shop next door. We sell houseplants. (“We” being myself and Ian. There are no other employees.) The shops are in Brixton Market, an indoor market which is half-gentrified and half-not, which makes it a lively mix of people from all over the world. (This can be said about many places in London, but it’s very much on display in Brixton Market.) Anne and Ian have changed the function of their shops multiple times throughout their ten years at Brixton Market, and they’ve just switched from coffee to houseplants. Their business model is simple: they buy houseplants at Covent Garden market at four in the morning when all the wholesalers go, drive them south across the river, and jack up the prices triple to sell to the hipsters there. People are absolutely cookoo for houseplants. I did not know this, because I barely use instagram, but that’s really where the trend started to take off. I also think it has to do with the economic strangulation of my entire generation, and so desperate as we are to care for another living thing but unwilling to submit to the financial burden of a child, or even a dog, houseplants are a safe middle ground. You don’t even need a yard.

2. I work in a houseplant shop because I got hit by a car at the end of May. I had got on my bike and was riding towards south bank to hang out with Harriet after work. I was biking past a long line of traffic when one of the drivers, bored with waiting, decided to yank the steering wheel to the left and scoot. She didn’t signal, I was coming down a hill, the bike stopped moving when she hit it, I didn’t. I flew over the hood of the car and landed on my right side. I was wearing my helmet, so even mid-air I was like “eh this is fine I’ll be fine” and due to the shock, I had no idea that my elbow was no longer where elbows are supposed to be. The driver was very apologetic and offered to drive me to the hospital, but I declined and said I just wanted to sit down for a minute. I sat in front of Sainsbury’s (it’s a supermarket chain, for my american audience) dizzy and feeling weird. Some other people had stopped to help; one ran inside the market to buy me some juice, one called an ambulace. “I’m fine, I don’t need an ambulance,” I said, taking off my jacket. I then saw my arm. Which, while the skin wasn’t even broken, it did look awfully … strange. “Maybe we can call that ambulance after all,” I said.

Several weeks of casts, reconstructive surgery, recovery, and bad sleeps later, I was wandering around with my flatmate Ceara in Brixton Market and saw an ad for a part-time shop assistant in the plant shop window. It was exactly what I needed, really: a low intensity job run by nice, sane human beings willing to hire a man who had little-to-no experience with plants and whose arm didn’t really work yet. So now I spend my workdays potting cacti in terrariums and talking up the virtues of sansevaria. My arm is fine, mostly. I had some titanium plates installed on my bones and a lot of great physiotherapy. My room is full of plants.

3. Because I only work part-time, and I have had this crazy idea at the back of my head for a long time, I started working on a book. It’s a novel. It’s set in Istanbul and explores the lives of several characters from wildly different social places — a Syrian refugee boy living on the streets, a trans kid from Anatolia who runs away from home, a rich housewife, a Kurdish handyman squatting in an abandoned home, an American teacher with an archaeology habit, a working-class fisherman — and how they accidentally unconver a conspiracy involving murder, gold smuggling, and political corruption. It is really ambitious as projects for me go, and I desperately want it to be good, and I am desperately scared it will not be. I have written a first draft which I of course hate and I start working on the second draft tomorrow, and I suspect I will hate that too, but slightly less than I hate draft one. This is what writing a book is like, unfortunately. You work for a very long time to make something you hate. You hate it because you have a vision of what you want it to be, you compare it, and it’s so obviously not that. But an author’s first readers are super helpful because instead of seeing the vision, they see the actual writing — they have nothing to compare it to, no vision to taunt them — and a first draft is always going to be better than the nothing of a no draft.

Those are the basics of the things I literally spend my time doing. I’ll write more about daily life stuff in the future, because, as I indicated in my very rash promise yesteryday, I have thirty days of time to fill, and daily life stuff is great for killing time. I promise dreams will feature less, unless they are as good as the one listed above.

(My favorite dream I ever had was in college. There was a bunch of animals all gamboling around in a perfect continent of perfect fields, and then they all went up in a big crowd to watch a rocketship land. The rocketship was like Air Force One — some politician was expected to come out, and a little staircase and podium was wheeled up to the door of the rocketship. All the animals held their breath and watched. A guy in a dark suit with a bright red shirt and a huge afro came out. “I’m Ron,” he shouted, and waved his hand. “Goddammit I’m Roooooooooon!” The crowd went nuts. It was: a metaphor. I hope.)

 

I’m going to publish something ONCE A DAY for the next month on this blog. SHIT. That is going to be a LOT OF PUBLISHING. Some of it will be:

– Stories about living in London!

-Original, scribbly journalism!

-Poetry!

-off-the-mark and terrible!

-Photography I have taken of things!

-Other forms of writing that I cannot yet predict!

The internet is a vast conglomeration of garbled images and to that, I shall add my voice, mostly in text, because I am a dinosaur who can only write, and my abilily to produce “content” is pretty limited. I am condemned to be a writer. For this monthlong bloggin work publish-a-post-a-day, I will be paid zero dollars (or pundos or liras), and hopefully some of what I produce will make you laugh, scream, pee, or hate me. If I miss a day, I will have to then post a video of myself doing the dance from the Skibidi song, aka “the nihilist’s macarena.” Today is the fifteenth of October, and on the fifteenth of November, I will either immediately cease this project, or continue less intensely.

 

We went to a wedding in Crete recently. Basically, five years ago Harriet did an archaeological dig up in the mountains of Crete and made a couple of really good archaeologist friends. One of them, Heidi, started seeing one of the village guys working at the dig, Dimitri, and when the two months of dig ended, she just…stayed. And she’s been there ever since. I completely understand why: the village of Kavousi is a big sunstained olive grove on the mediterranean. You get to eat great food, swim, and drink wine and raki all day long. We went back for their big fat Crete wedding last weekend. By all technicalities they’d been married for a long time already, since in order for Heidi to stay they had to do a civil ceremony (and get her a “Greek Card”? Am I allowed that pun?) but this was the “official” wedding. So the whole thing was a triple purpose of reunion with friends/Crete village wedding/swim a lot as a way to escape the rapidly dying English summer.

Some highlights:

  • Heidi had to get baptized in the Greek Orthodox church in order to get married in the Greek Orthodox church, despite, y’know, not believing in any of it…but also that meant she had to get a new name from a saint. “I’m not going to be Greek, ever,” she said. “I’m always going to be Australian. I didn’t want to be another Maria.” The Orthodox priest who’d been working on it though wanted to accomodate, and went around and dug through the archives to find an appropriate German saint name: Athelheid! She had to get dunked in a pool and kiss a bible a lot while some bearded dudes chanted in Greek. We, sadly, were not around at that ceremony to delight in her confusion.
  • About two hours before the wedding, the relatives of the groom (or some randos? unclear) press-ganged me, Harriet, and Emily into assembling centerpieces made from olive branches and other local flora jabbed into firm wet foam blocks. I had a pair of secateurs and just had to lop off branches of various shapes and sizes from a pile of olive trees they’d thrown on the ground. There were about a hundred tables and they’d made…maybe six centerpieces, and were veeeeerry unhurried about the whole thing. We had to leave to get ready after about an hour of that.
  • The wedding was at a little one-room church down by the shore. Honestly, if you weren’t looking at the sea, the church and courtyard looked like they’d come out of a set for a western.
  • Lots of the old men at the wedding looked like John Wayne, even. The ceremony was outside in the courtyard. It was so windy that one of the little decorative posts on either side of the altar got knocked over, and one of the guys in the wedding party LUNGED over the priest to grab it. The candle globe on top fell off and broke, but the post was saved. Hooray.
  • First the groom’s entourage came up the beach road in a line of cars, all honking. Then everyone milled around for about a half an hour until the bride’s entourage came up the beach road in a line of cars, all honking.
  • At the ceremony, (which involved a lot of bible-kissing and bearded dudes chanting in Greek) I got an extra handful of rice and put it in my front pocket, so I could ambush Dimitri and Heidi.
  • After the ceremony we went down to the outdoor taverna for Wedding Stage II. It was set up in kind of a horseshoe — a bunch of tables on either side, and a big dance floor in the middle. A raised stage was at the front. Wedding Stage II was huge platters of slightly cold meze — tzatziki, some very funky village cheese, fried pie things. Oh, and village wine. And raki. I was trying to pace myself. For those of you who want to know — the wine tasted like Georgian village wine, the raki was much more like Georgian chacha than Turkish rakı. Oh dear.
  • Our table was the archaeologists/random English speakers table. This was a self-selected arrangement. Everyone else at the wedding was Greek. It was a strange combination, but pretty fun.
  • The wedding cake (really small, for four hundred village guests) was sitting in the middle of the dance floor on a little table while we waited for Heidi and Dimitri to come back from taking pictures. Some little kids were running around in the middle of the dance floor danging to the Greek pop/folk/whatever it was on the speakers. Everyone was kind of distracted, talking to the people at their tables, not really paying attention. One of the girls ran up to the cake and stopped, looked at it, and then jammed her finger right into the bottom layer. She took her finger out, licked it, and then ran back to her mom with a big smile to tell her what she’d done. Almost nobody saw it, but our table just erupted with laughter. We could all see the mom and the kid talking from across the circle and while we had no idea what was actually said of course, the mom had this great expression of being simultaneoulsy amused and a little alarmed.
  • Wedding Stage III was the arrival of the bride and groom, the musicians, and platters of goat meat. There were five musicians and all of them had different shapes of guitar-y instruments played with different kinds of things — picks, fingers, a bow. It was time for circle dancing.
  • Wedding Stage III lasted for SIX HOURS.
  • I kept thinking something else would happen, some other element of ceremony, but. The cake-cutting part lasted about two minutes. (Someone had turned the cake around so there wasn’t an obvious finger-hole facing the audience.) Then it was BACK TO THE CIRCLE DANCING.
  • I’d worn flip flops, stupidly, so I had to take them off to dance, and it is only now (more than a week later) that my feet are starting to feel normal again.
  • There was one dance which seemed to go on forever — I noticed that the same song was just unusually long, and I felt sweat falling off my forehead in great big drops, and I actually had to excuse myself in the middle of it to pee, and sometime during the dance an old man stood in the center of the circle, pouring shots to every dancer as the passed him. I was later informed that this was the famous Cretan “Dance of Death”, and that all of Dimitri’s friends kept popping up to the musicians and putting in a few Euroes into their tip box to keep the song going, like a perpetual live jukebox. It lasted around 45 minutes. Every foreigner in the circle, including me, was just shambling around in exhaustion by the end of it.
  • That was when the whisky came out. Dimitri’s friends all sat down for cigars. I think there was some drama where Heidi’s mom had tried to go home, but the cigars were in her car, so Heidi had to get a ride back up to the village to get them back. I have no idea. I was full of goat. This was Wedding Stage IV. Emily was about to die. We started walking home and a guardian angel gave us a ride back to our guest house.

A lot of you are probably wondering why I am in the UK at all. Those of you who know me but whom I haven’t talken to in ages probably think something along the lines of, “Hey! It’s that guy I met in spanish class/theater camp/a foreign city, once/school/other school/yelling somewhere! I thought he was in Turkey forever!”

Yes. This is true, people! I was in Turkey forever. And then there was a coup, and then the expat population started fleeing the city, and then Harriet and I realized we didn’t want to be doing unchanging English jobs for the rest of our natural lives. Istanbul is great for many reasons — including the ability to get entry-level employment and a living wage without requiring impossible qualifications, like in many big western cities right now — but working there becomes a treadmill at some point. You might accellerate, but you don’t actually get anywhere.

Harriet and I wanted to move somewhere English-speaking for awhile, just for funsies. New York was a top choice since a bunch of our Istanbul expat friends absconded there in the past few years. But therein lies a hilarious modern challenge of international dating: how do you get both parties in a bi-national relationship to get full residence and working permission in the same place? It’s a head-scratcher. In the USA, it’s just marriage. Green card marriage. We talked to a lawyer (several times!) and he informed us that was basically our only choice.

I’m going to spare you the details, but since Porsidarnt Trungo’s election immigration has unsurprisingly gotten much harder. Harriet was interrogated at the border by some clueless homeland security employees who told her she had an “unstable life” (ironic, since out of everyone I know in Istanbul, she’s had the same job for the entire three years she’d been there) and said they didn’t understand why anyone would want to live abroad (also ironic, considering we were going through the “pre-clearance” border in Ireland, and the American employees questioning her all lived in Dublin. )

Our lawyer told us the plan would still work, but it was going to be much harder and we’d pretty much have to stay in the US forever and ever. That sounded bad. We panicked for a few months, spending time at my dad’s house in Boston, and on Anna’s/the Doshaches’ couch in New York, and eventually decided to move to London.

I am confused. How is it that you can move to London and work?

Yes, it is confusing. My mom is Canadian by technicality of birth, and so that means I’m commonwealth and can live as a “youth” in the UK for two years, despite being nearly 30. Harriet’s got the same permission as a New Zealand citizen. Plus, London is dope.

Why would you want to go there instead of New Zealand? Isn’t it all idyllic hobbit houses?

True, but getting a residency card there for me would have taken at least eight or nine months of separation and paperwork, and that sounded bad. The UK visa could be taken care of relatively quickly, cheaply, and buy us two years of time before our next stop.

So what on earth have you been doing?

After two months in the states, Harriet flew home to New Zealand to apply for her visa. I stuck around in the states another month for Christmas and spent the holiday in Colorado with my uncle Erik & Co. We played a lot of ping pong and spent a lot of time drinking in the sauna. Pretty ace. After that Harriet’s parents sprung for a ticket for me to join her in New Zealand, which I will forever be grateful for, and then we flew to the UK in January. Now we live in a neighborhood neighbourhood called West Norwood in South London. Our roommates are all cool.

But like it’s halfway through May now. What have you been doing?

Welllllllllllllllllllll finding a decent job in this city is a bastard. So I’ve been writing a lot, exploring the city with my no money, and trying to make new friends. I am in an improv class. I have a bike, which I bought with my first and only paycheck from the escape room (that is another story altogether), and London is really flat, which makes it great for biking.

Thank you for updating me. I feel enriched by knowledge of your life.

This is what I endeavor endevour to do. Stay tuned, I might actually try and post here regularly.

Nobody could have expected this, but finding a job in the capitol city of the most bureaucratically rigid nation on the planet has proven, oh, difficult. I was interviewing with this travel company for six weeks (!!!!!) over the phone, email, in person, and they sent me an email last week saying “Yo it was suuuuuper hard deciding between you and this other dude, but with went with the other dude. You cool though! You cool!” Which is just as well because judging by their sub-par interview skills — I think they googled “what to ask in an interivew” about ten minutes before I showed up and asked them off a laptop, for two intense yet wholly indirect hours — I’m not sure I’d enjoy working there. This was the most egregious example of what I’ve been dealing with here, but eh. One place asked me to write an example news article, and then after I’d written it, told me “oh actually we wanted a different kind of article” and I said “Oh, that wasn’t clear.” (because they had, in fact, not asked for that kind of article.) “Can I write one now?” and the reply was a swift “No.”

So in the meantime I’ve taken a job at an escape room as a stopgap. An escape room, for those who don’t know (I wrote an article for that paper in Turkey about them), is a game where you get locked in a room and have to solve puzzles to escape. There are ones kind of like haunted houses where you have to search for a key, and then there are ones where everything has a padlock on it and you need to deduce the combinations from wheel-charts and numbers scrawled on the wall.

The interview there was a ten-minute interrogation from a woman from the former Soviet nation of Latvia about my deepest hopes and dreams. I was taken aback, but answered the questions as honestly as I could. “We like to help people achieve their dreams here,” she said. “Are you ready to work 12 hours a day?” Okay. There was no contract nor forms to fill out. I was hired.

We have three rooms — a pirate themed room, a “witches and wizards” (read: Harry Potter) room, and a serial killer room. It’s kind of fun. There are secret doors, codes written in ropes or crazy drawings, a magic star, a cryptex, a life-size floppy man who’s been locked up in a cell, and plenty more.

cryptex

Congratulations! You opened a wacky puzzle-tube.

In the pirate room, you actually start out locked in the brig. I get into the spirit of things sometimes: I dyed a bunch of paper yellow with Earl Grey and wrote longhand clues for our pirate room — the previous clues had been typed out on construction paper, and it looked not at all like an antique Ship’s Log.

The actual job consists of watching people scratch their heads on CCTV, and sending them hints if they can’t figure it out. You greet them, of course, explain what they’re about to do, and then follow their progress on camera as they notice and piece together all the elements of the puzzles. Our “hints” consist of pictures of powerpoint presentations, broadcast on to screens in each room. Then, after the guests have torn off every drawer handle and unscrewed every lightbulb and thrown every prop in a pile in the middle of the room, you go back in, tidy, reset the puzzles, put the clues back into their drawers, relock the locks. It is monkey work, but it is by far the strangest monkey work I’ve ever done. After six or so rounds of this, you can go home.

I was trained by a neurotic Chinese-English girl five years my actual junior but who comes off as much younger, because her entire life is work, martial arts class, and family time. Every time I mention something outside those topics, she freely admits ignorance. I mentioned that Harriet had snagged 15 pound tickets to a West End show. “Oh, I don’t know much about theatre shows.” I once identified a customer named Jesus as Spanish. “Oh, I don’t know much about languages.” (She’s bilingual.) One time someone buzzed the door, and she moved her mug down behind the desk.

“Oh, I wouldn’t want the guests to see my tea,” she said.

“God forbid they find out you drink tea,” I teased.

“Haha, right. It’s much too casual,” she said, completely serious. An employee at a game room drinking tea in the UK: yep, sounds hugely unprofessional. I admit to cultural ignorance, and perhaps Turkey has skewed my perceptions on when it is okay to drink tea (100% of the time, with anyone and everyone) but still.

She is of course very good at her job of greeting people, entertaining them, sending them hints, and resetting the rooms at blitzkrieg speed. It just becomes difficult to work with people, for me anyways, when I can’t get a sense of what they care about outside of work.

The hardest part about my job are honestly the hours: the times that people play escape room games are, surprise! not during the work day, which means I’m busy in the evenings and on weekends.

Really, I’m beginning to look at the prospect of finding work in this country as its own escape room, but with much shittier puzzles. Here’s the setup: you’re trapped in a dead-end job in a foreign country, you work unsocial hours and make minimum wage. Your employer is trained in Soviet-era interrogation. You have to decode both the postal system and two government websites in order to obtain an NI number so you can be taxed at the correct rate. Most employers and government services are impervious to the sorts of cajoling that worked in the last country you lived in. How do you: 1) find challenging employment, 2) make friends, 3) earn enough money to enjoy one of the most lively cities on earth while still being able to save a little on the side, and 4) do everything legally? You have one more month before you go mad. Aaaaaand the clock starts now!

 

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.

 

 

*”Who’s there?”

“Ben kim.”

“Evet sen kim?”

“Yes, I’m Ben Kim.”

“KIMSIN YAAA”