Maybe you’ve heard this story. A winter so cold my grandfather watched hot soup freeze in a bowl. He was living in the forest with other teenagers outside Antopol. Maybe you heard about the weapons he robbed from peasants. Maybe you heard about the sticks of dynamite he set along military rail routes, waiting for them to spark and explode. Maybe you heard about the boar he chased out of the woods. When I was a kid we’d spend summers in Tel Aviv, squeezed into his sweaty orange kitchen, plucking olives from a bowl and spitting the pits in our palms while my mother fixed us lunch. He had a deep tan and a fat laugh, white hair parted drastically to one side. He liked to sit around in his undershirt and sandals and tell stories, stories I half-believed but still repeated to my friends like gospel, of secret missions and near escapes. Always – always – at some point he and my father would argue. And suddenly it was as if the two of them had taken up all the oxygen in the room and my grandfather would stomp out to the patio, and my father would say to us, He’s always been like this. The war’s over seventy years and still he’s in it. He hates everything. And my mother would say, Nachum, calm down, and my father would say, I am calm, and then she’d give me the look, and I’d pack up our uneaten lunch and take my grandfather around the block to the park. I worked forty years at the shoe store, he’d say to me. Now we’ve got locations all over the country. You tell your father that’s called progress. And I don’t hate everything. He didn’t walk the streets so much as patrol them. I love my apartment, I love the heat, I love you. I love this park, he’d say, gesturing wildly. I’d watch Filipina nannies push double strollers up the path, watch two teenagers, barefoot and in Bedouin pants, lumber after a Frisbee. I love this bench! he’d say. It’s our bench. But then he’d start popping his knuckles like he did when he was antsy and I’d know this couldn’t go on. But I don’t love that squirrel, he’d blurt. It’s nothing but a rat with a goofy tail. And those kids? They’re lazy at Frisbee. Why aren’t they in school? Give me that bag, he’d say, and when I did he’d lay out our lunch, boiled eggs and pita and fruit salad, and say, I don’t love the berries at Supersol. They’re mush. I ate better ones that year in the forest. All winter it was potatoes, potatoes, potatoes, but come summer blackberries were everywhere. See, that’s me being positive. Give me a napkin. Give me a fork. Give me that stick over there, he’d say. It’s a good one. You see this? Long and so straight that at night they might mistake it for a rifle. Hold it up like this and no one can ever hurt you.
Ian Jack, Remembered
‘Ian was a gifted journalist and editor of immense common sense, and had an insatiable curiosity about the world around him. We will miss him.’
Editor of Granta, Sigrid Rausing, remembers Ian Jack.
The Stinky Ocean
‘It was a peculiar, alopecic landscape of hummocks and gullies, with patches of grass growing on what looked like white earth, and rarely a soul to be seen.’
Ian Jack on the slag heaps of Glasgow, and the aristocratic lives built on them.
Those Who Felt Differently
‘Could grief for one woman have caused all this? We were told so.’
Ian Jack in 1997 on the death of Diana.
The Best Picture He Ever Saw
‘Always and everywhere, this unequal struggle to preserve and remember.’
Ian Jack recalls the missing buildings of his hometown, Farnworth.
The 12.10 To Leeds
‘Outside wars and nuclear accidents, it is hard to think of any technological failure which has had such lasting and widespread effects.’
Ian Jack on the Hatfield train crash, from Granta 73.