Imagine the absurdity of two openly gay, married, middle aged, middle class men escaping the liberal sanctuary of anonymous London to relocate to a Muslim country. I chronicled our exploits with the mad, the sad, the bad and the glad in a blog for the whole world to ignore. Then came the book which became a critically acclaimed best seller. Its success opened out a whole new career for me, firstly as an author, and now as a publisher. Who'd have thought it? Certainly not me.
In June 2012, we ended our Anatolian affair and paddled back to Britain on the evening tide, washing up in Norwich, a surprising city in eastern England. I’m sometimes nostalgic for our encounters with the hopeless, the hapless and, yes, the happy go lucky. They gave me an unexpected tale to tell and for this I thank them. Act Two, Turkey Street, is out now in print and digital editions.
We’re all doomed according to those in the know. Global warming is melting the ice caps, sea levels are rising and, sooner rather than later, Britannia will sink beneath the waves along with much of the rest of the world. Mother Earth will likely survive – thrive even – but without us to muck it up again. And it probably serves us right. Still, while we wait for the next biblical flood, I do my bit, recycling-wise. This might seem like pissing in the wind but I do it anyway, separating this from that. These days about three quarters of what we chuck is tossed into the communal recycling bin, though it’s fair to say much of that consists of glass bottles of the wine kind. Our rubbish has always rattled.
My temperature is raised by some of our neighbours who seem incapable of following simple recycling guidelines or, more likely, are too idle to be arsed. But I get really heated by the vast quantity of soft plastic film that wraps pretty much everything these days. This can’t be recycled. Gawd knows why. So off it goes with the peelings and scraps to the incinerator to cause even more global warming or to end up swimming about in the oceans. I can almost hear the dolphins scream.
One lesbian is murdered by a cowardly nationalist sniper while another becomes the Democratic Unionist Party’s first ever openly gay councillor. Journalist and tireless LGBT campaigner, Lyra McKee, was shot dead during rioting in Derry/Londonderry. The response was universal revulsion from both sides of the political divide in Northern Ireland. Alison Bennington was elected to Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council as a member of the shamelessly anti-gay DUP. Her election met with horror by some party bigots. Could it be that these two events – just weeks apart – will bring real change? God, I really hope so.
Football, as we all know, is filthy rich – a huge multi-billion pound global business and a not altogether honest one, with bungs and bribes flying about like confetti. While the beautiful game is not my cup of char, there’s no denying the considerable passion it stirs. After a few difficult years in the shade, the Norwich City Football Team – known as the Canaries – have just been promoted to the English Premier League, the richest of them all, I’m told. The city threw a party to celebrate and thousands of devoted fans pitched up to cheer the team on as the boys in yellow and green paraded through the streets in an open-top bus. It was impossible not to be swept along by the enthusiasm, lighting up a very dull day. The boost to the club’s coffers – not to mention the players’ wages – and the local economy as a whole should be substantial. Well done, lads.
Regular pansyfans may recall that Springtime Books (that’s me and my partners in crime) are working on an anthology of expat stories about Turkey. A huge thank you to those who’ve contributed so far – the book is building very nicely. We’ve already got a fabulous, diverse selection of personal tales and reflections – from Istanbul to Gaziantep, from ‘Chickens in a Buick’ to ’Finding My Tribe in Turkey’, some humorous, some touching and all capturing a personal snapshot. All this means there’s a unique book in the making.
So do keep your contributions coming in (see Turkey Anthology – What’s Your Story? for more info.) We’re about halfway there. I know many of you have some amazing personal stories to tell and, as this book is a ‘thank you to Turkey from expats past and present’, it would be particularly good to have some up-close-and-personal accounts of how Turkey and its people have affected you, touched you. Don’t worry if your idea isn’t fully-formed, just get something down on ‘paper’ and we can finesse it later.
The book is still untitled but to help visualise what it might eventually look like, I’ve got our designer to knock up a mock-up. It’s just an idea at this stage to be taken lightly but does hint at the kind of look and feel we’ll be going for.
British weather is notoriously changeable – from drab to sparkling, drenched to parched, cold to clammy – sometimes all in the space of a few days. Perhaps that’s why it’s a bit of a national obsession and the staple of many an awkward conversation in a lift. It pays to take full advantage when a fine weather front rolls in. And take advantage we did when balmy air blew up from the Continent to bestow a mini heatwave for Easter. We jumped on a bus and headed for a riverside pub in Thorpe St Andrew, a pretty hamlet on the outskirts of Norwich. Liam wanted ducks, I wanted wine. The wine won. The only duck we saw was on a road sign.
The word according to Holy Joe, the former Pope Benedict XVI, is that social change in the sixties created the cancer of child sex abuse in the Catholic Church. The ex-Vicar of Christ cites, among other things, “the clothing of that time” leading to “mental collapse” and “violence”. So there it is. The Church’s undoing is all down to miniskirts and loon pants – not the secrecy, the silence, the denials, the collusion or the arrogant belief that the Holy See is above the law. No, Joe, priestly kiddie fiddling and other clerical abuses were rife long before the sixties. It’s just that in a more enlightened, less deferential age, people aren’t willing to put up with it. The Catholic Church is not uniquely guilty of these sins, but it is guilty nonetheless. And that’s why the pews are empty come Sunday.
Holy Joe went on to preach that “the death of God in a society” means “the end of freedom”. The end of whose freedom, I wonder? Certainly not mine. It’s not religion per se that bothers me. I’ve no beef with faith as long as it’s not used to demonise others. No, it’s the corrosive stench of hypocrisy that hangs over it that I find offensive. God save us all from the bigots in the pulpit. And don’t get me started on the hangers, floggers and stoners out there.
We’ve just celebrated our eleventh wedding anniversary – steel according to some traditions – so I bought Liam a metal whistle to use when he’s trying to bring me to heel – good luck with that one! We revelled in some style with a spot of lunch at Bishop’s – one of Norwich’s best eateries – all posh nosh and fine wine. Afterwards, we staggered up St Andrew’s Hill for digestifs at The Cosy Club – one of the city’s swankiest drinking dens – fashioned from the Victorian grandeur of the old NatWest bank on London Street. There is nothing particularly cosy about the lavish interior. More style over substance we thought.
As well as our legs-eleven anniversary, it was also thirteen years since we first met after work in a gay bar just off Trafalgar Square in old London Town. Our eyes met across the crowd of boozing suits and bewildered tourists. Liam reeled me in with a double gin. And that, as they say, was that. The number thirteen may be unlucky for some, but definitely not for me.