I'm Jean Hannah Edelstein, a writer, editor and author. This used to be my personal blog, but now I just use it for amusing and interesting internet ephemera. Head to www.jeanhannahedelstein.com for the full-strength version of what I'm thinking and writing.
The wedding was just outside Glasgow, and on Sunday I strolled round it with my sister and brother-in-law, who popped over from Edinburgh. Glasgow has such a special place in my heart, in the heart of my family, because it’s where our parents, a somewhat-unlikely couple, met.
My American dad was doing a post-doc at Glasgow University; my Scottish mother was working as an educational psychologist in some of the city’s most challenging communities. They lived in bedsits in the same building off Byres Road, my dad invited my mum over to a party where he played ‘Goodnight Irene’ on the guitar, it was love!
When my siblings and I were growing up, and in Scotland for summer vacations, a visit to Glasgow was always an essential part of the itinerary: we’d walk round their old haunts on what I eventually dubbed ‘The Bill and Fiona Romance Tour’. And now that I just about the age that they were when they got together, I think for the first time I kind of understand why.
I gave up trying to take photos at weddings a couple of years ago, when I realised that everyone was taking photos, that my photos were never very good, and that trying to take photos tended to interfere with actually participating, that it was more important to be present than to have photos to share on Facebook to prove that I was present.
So at the one I went to this weekend I took about three, and they were all pretty bad. But the wedding was gorgeous and funny and a total delight, and so was the Victoria sponge (above).
The other night I was clearing some old notes out of my iPhone. Mostly I use the Notes app for titles of books and films that people tell me I must read or watch that I’ve neither read nor watched; WiFi passwords for hotel rooms; shopping lists for dinner parties (I stared at a list that said ‘goat’ for at least ten seconds until I remembered that I was referring to chevre). Nice reminders of where I’ve been and what I’ve done. But also I found some little snippets, sentences and phrases that I’d jotted down in anticipation of working them in to bigger pieces. I suppose that was what I was thinking when I wrote this, the greatest note of all:
I remember those overbleached sheets: they were in a cheap hotel above a Chinese restaurant on the south coast of England, and they were so stiff and redolent of a swimming pool that I couldn’t sleep at all. I kept waking with a start, feeling like I was suffocating in the abrasive, pungent cotton.
But the ‘problem which is hideously wrong’? I can’t recall what I was talking about. And I think that’s extraordinarily nice: that something that evidence shows felt crushing and awful three months ago is now not important enough to remember. Like a lot of really big problems.
It would be an advantage, I am thinking, to have a boyfriend in this circumstance. The circumstance is that I’m on a family holiday; we’re all sharing an apartment, and as the sole single member of the clan, I have been assigned, as always, to the least propitious bed. Tonight, it is a narrow cot, the sort that folds away in to a cupboard, the cheapest one from IKEA. A metal frame, a thin mattress, supported by wooden slats.
It is midnight. I am ready to sleep. I sit down on the cot and a slat immediately falls out and smacks the wooden floor.
I shift. Two more slats crash down.
And now there is a pounding on the floor beneath me.
WHAT THE FUUUUUUUUCK! a man is shouting. IF YOU DO THAT AGAIN I WILL CALL THE POLICE!
Huh, I think. This is so awkward.
I WILL CALL THE POLIIIIIICE!
My brother comes crashing out of the bedroom that he is sharing with his wife and son.
We should call the police! my brother exclaims. I think there is some kind of violent fight going on downstairs! Should we call the police? It’s 999 in this country, you know.
(Though known more for his acute intellect than his sheer brawn, my brother is very responsive in times of apparent peril. I recall an episode in the early noughties when we were awakened by some kids throwing snowballs or some such at our house and he charged down the stairs brandishing the rail from his bunk bed, only to realise that it was just kids throwing snowballs and they’d run off and he was standing at the bottom of the staircase, holding a bunk bed rail.)
Now my father has also emerged.
WHAT THE FUUUUUUCK! says the angry downstairs man.
It sounds like there is something really bad happening downstairs, my brother says in a stage whisper.
Huh, my dad whispers back. Do you think we should call the police?
We should probably call the police, says my brother.
I want to get out of bed and calm them down. But I am painfully aware that it will cause more slats to slam down. I decide this is better than trying to explain the situation to the cops. No, officer, I would have to say. It’s not a disturbance. Just a shitty IKEA cot that I am sleeping on because I do not have the advantage of a boyfriend.
I roll myself on to the floor in the hopes that it will cause the least disturbance to the slats.
Hey, I say. Guys. Don’t worry. It’s just the slats falling out of this terrible cot.
Oh, says my brother.
Oh, says my father.
We look at each other. I can just make them out in the dark, their shoulders gently heaving as they laugh muffled laughs, just like mine.
1. Rome! I went to Rome with two other friends to visit our friend Ro, who moved there recently after a stint in Cambodia. I’ve known Ro since we were both studying at LSE, nearly a decade ago, and it’s such a precious thing to still be her friend, to be able to spend a weekend with her seeing the wonders of Rome and drinking wine and eating pasta and observing gestures and deciding that it’s a really good idea to ride from the Coloseum to the Vatican on comedy two-person bicycles, the sort usually ridden in beaches and parks.
(It’s probably not a really good idea — ‘uh, we probably shouldn’t ride on the dual carriageway’ — but it was almost certainly the most hilarious thing I’ve ever done on holiday.)
2. On the flight to Rome I read Heartburn by Nora Ephron and it was so amazing that I read it on the way home too. It’s so funny and effortless, and yet she also says some really important things about writing, about controlling one’s own stories, about how it is better to get people to laugh at you than feel sorry for you, and about writing what one wants despite what other people want. I’m inspired.
3. And as an extra touch of niceness, this weekend my parents and brother and sister-in-law and nephew all arrived in the UK, marking the first time we’ve all been in this country together, ever. I am so delighted. Next weekend I am going to the Borders (Borrrrrrrderrrrrs) to see them. I’ve got a new pair of wellies especially.
Lauren is a finalist to give a talk at TED 2013! Please watch her excellent talk, vote, and share with people you know who will be interested in her topic, which is animal friends (what kind of person isn’t interested in animal friends??)
I was going to entitle this post ‘on saying goodbye to an old friend’ but in fact, it’s just a really old laptop. So I didn’t.
No doubt, until it refused to switch on at all last night, I’ve been taking a perverse delight in continuing to use this clapped-out laptop, which I’ve had since 2006. It used to particularly irritate my ex-boyfriend; ‘you need a new laptop!’ he’d say whenever he came round and saw it sweating on my kitchen table. And he was sort of right, but I persisted in not buying one, appreciating instead the pleasure of squeezing every last drop of work out of it, even after some of the keys melted in a freak key-melting incident (literally; I have no idea what happened).
I am not a collector of stuff; haven’t been since I moved to London for what was meant to be a temporary period of time. Ever since, I’ve avoided making significant purchases, with an eye on the idea that I might re-cross the Atlantic at any moment. Which hasn’t come up in nine years, but still! I’m not an accumulator. I like lightness. I think some people take it as a sign of coldness, indifference, that I don’t like to hang on to stuff, but I’ve just become someone who devotes affection to live memories rather than signifying things.
As things go, I guess this should be one of the most important: I’ve used it daily for six years, written most of everything I’ve cared about writing on it. I feel like I should feel sort of devastated that this constant companion has finally croaked, like a guinea pig who’s outlived its life expectancy by years. But knowing that it will never turn on again doesn’t make me feel sad; just lighter.
Summer Saturday afternoons, the mid-to-late 80s: after bagels at lunchtime (a mug of tepid milk that I refuse to drink and will be served again tomorrow) my father dons his lawn-mowing trousers. They are bell-bottom jeans with portraits of great, brainy men woven in white against the blue. In retrospect it seems amazing to me that before the jeans were dedicated to grass-mowing, my father must have worn them without irony, popped down to the shops in Aberdeen with Einstein grinning on his knee and Shakespeare winking on his hip.
The lawnmower is recalcitrant and unwieldy; Dad sweats as he lugs it around corners. He never achieves a checkerboard and, unaware of things like finance, I wonder every time I watch him struggle why he doesn’t just get one that he can drive, like our next-door neighbour. The noise is deafening, and there’s a whiff of gasoline, and I’m sitting on the itchy tweed couch reading a library book because that is absolutely all that I ever do on Saturday afternoons. Maybe later he’ll break out the weed-whacker.