A decade has now passed since we closed the door on the stone house in Bodrum for the last time and brought our four-year Turkish adventure to a sudden end. And ever since, while the world has continued its grim descent into oblivion, we’ve just carried on regardless. Our Anatolian days taught us to think differently and live differently – making do with less and being all the happier for it.
After Turkey, we pitched our tent in Norfolk, a flat and bountiful corner of old England – first in Norwich, then Chedgrave, a village few people have heard of. To begin with, we rented, trying the city on for size. Our first lodgings were a 400-year-old former weaver’s gaff in flint and brick near Norwich’s University of the Arts. We loved it, giving us a taste for city life and its student vibe. But our antique digs were cold and draughty and, even back in 2012, cost a king’s ransom to heat. Gawd knows what the bills are like now.
After a couple of years, we decided to put down roots and buy our own slice of historic Norwich – a micro-loft in a handsome converted Victorian warehouse, a writer’s garret to polish off Turkey Street, my second memoir.
At the time, our savings were still in Turkish lira earning pretty good interest. Little did we know that the lira was about to take a dive – and lucky for us, we converted to sterling just in the nick of time. Only days later Turkey’s currency dropped off a cliff, and it’s been more or less in freefall ever since. Had we hesitated it might have been the workhouse for us, not some trendy city-centre apartment.
Five years later, we fancied a quieter life, with room to breathe and a log burner to keep our tootsies toasty. We put the micro-loft on the market and it was bought by the first person to view. Quite by chance, Liam noticed a tiny 1850s worker’s cottage for sale. We came, we saw, we bought. Five months into our village life, the world was in lockdown, and our cottage was the perfect place to ride out the storm. Our luck was still in.
Truth is, we only chose Norfolk because we needed somewhere we could actually afford and that was a relatively easy commute to London: there was family stuff to deal with. But as time moved on there was no longer a need for us to stick around the sticks. For a while, we toyed with God’s Own County – Yorkshire – with its big-limbed, hunky Heathcliffs. It certainly does have its moody blue attractions among the moors and mills.
But we’re rather taken with our East Anglian hamlet, with its broad Naarfuk brogue, big skies and chirpy birds with their squawky dawn call – loud enough to wake the dead in the churchyard next door. And we may be newbie Norfolk broads but we’re definitely not the only gays in the village.
The cottage is my nineteenth address. Will I make it to twenty? And will our luck hold? Who knows? But we do have a coffin hatch just in case the Grim Reaper comes a-knocking.
Every year I get a statement from the British Library setting out how many times Perking the Pansies has been borrowed from UK libraries. This is followed some time later by a payment. It’s only pennies per loan but it’s nice to know my camp old nonsense isn’t gathering too much dust 11 years after it was published.
UK publishers are obliged by law to supply copies of their books to the national libraries of Britain and Ireland, so it’s no surprise that Perking the Pansies can be found at the British Library, the national libraries of Scotland and Wales, the library of Trinity College, Dublin and the libraries of Oxford and Cambridge Universities. What is a surprise is that the book can also be picked up at libraries in Greenwich and Wandsworth in London and libraries in East Sussex and Greater Manchester.
What’s an even bigger surprise is that the book is available to borrow in Antwerp (Belgium), Illinois and New York state (USA), Auckland and Wellington (New Zealand) and Victoria and New South Wales (Australia).
But what is my camp old nonsense doing in the library of Harvard University? Blimey!
My irreverent, irrelevant ramblings reached the grand old age of 10 in October last year. It passed by without notice. Blog years are like dog years so all things being equal, Perking the Pansies should have been sent to the knacker’s yard yonks ago. The fact that the pansies continue to thrive is a testament to those who still take the time to pass by after all these years. It makes this old nag very happy. How long will it continue? Dunno.
But what is certain is that the book that emerged from the early days of the blog changed everything and took Liam and me in an entirely different and totally unexpected direction. And that book – Perking the Pansies, Jack and Liam Move to Turkey – reaches its own 10th anniversary next month, and that hasn’t passed me by. The fact that after a decade it still sells at all is a minor miracle and rather humbling. I thank you.
“A bitter-sweet tragi-comedy that recalls the first year of a British gay couple living in a Muslim land. Just imagine the absurdity of two openly gay, recently married middle aged, middle class men escaping the liberal sanctuary of anonymous London to relocate to a Muslim country. Jack and Liam, fed up with kiss-my-arse bosses and nose-to-nipple commutes, chuck in the towel and move to a small town in Turkey. Join the culture-curious gay couple on their bumpy rite of passage.”
We queued up at the checkout with two bottles of Majestik and a tub of Cadbury’s Celebrations, attracting the curiosity of the shopper ahead of us. She was loading her groceries into a large tartan shopping trolley, her eyes darting quickly between me and Liam as if she had suddenly recognised long lost friends. I contemplated smiling but thought better of it.
‘You’re Jack Scott, aren’t you? I’ve been reading your blog.’
‘Oh,’ I said, blushing like a pubescent teen caught coming out of a backstreet massage parlour. ‘I suppose I should apologise.’
‘Actually, it’s rather good.’
Liam rolled his eyes.
‘Well,’ I said, ‘would you mind telling him that?’
She grinned at Liam, almost in sympathy, paid the cashier and pulled the ﬂap down over her trolley.
‘Thrilled to meet you both. You’ve caused quite a stir, you know. And don’t worry, I’m not about to stalk you, but I hope we meet again. We’re practically neighbours after all.’
Turkey Street, Jack and Liam move to Bodrum, Chapter 27, The Exiles
That was the very first time I met Annie, a vetpat of distinction. It wasn’t to be the last. This is Annie in her own words:
“In early 1982 I boarded a Turkish Kibris flight to Izmir – my destination was a 29 foot sloop in Bodrum’s new marina. At 22, my belongings fitted into a worse for wear sailing holdall. In 2012 I made a similar journey from Heathrow to Bodrum. Thirty years have passed and Bodrum has changed. There are plenty of very good blogs detailing the ex-pat journey through modern Turkey. The aim of this one is to catch sight of past Turkey through my experience of re-settling in modern Bodrum.”
Annie Onursan, Back to Bodrum
Erudite and creative, Annie has recently taken up painting with watercolours – first with greeting cards and now with larger works – inspired by the natural world and the timeless rural life that surrounds her. It turns out she’s good, very good. Here’s a sample.
I spotted Annie’s first larger piece – ‘Watching’ – on Facebook. I loved it, really loved it. Sneaky old Liam contacted Annie and snapped it up as a surprise birthday gift. It now hangs proudly on our wall – an Annie Onursan original, from her village to ours.
Annie is a member of a local arts group called the Bodrum Art Collective. Check out their website here.
We should have been in Spain in June – visiting old friends in pretty Sitges and a few days in gorgeous Girona. The pandemic put paid to that, of course. And, since foreign travel is probably off the agenda this year, I thought I’d raid the archives to find something about a holiday many, many years ago in a land far, far away.
For John Garner (1967-2003)
I was a Turkey virgin. It was 1997, my first time. John and I had booked a holiday with an old mucker and his latest squeeze. We were thirty-something boys-about-town desperate for a little respite from fast living and the daily grind. The glossy brochure promised tranquil simplicity and that’s what we got. Our digs were a modest whitewashed villa nestled on a craggy headland on the north side of the Datça Peninsula. The lushness of our rural idyll was totally unexpected – so much richer than the dry bush of Andalucia and the Greek islands I’d been used to. And the silent sunsets were life-affirming – spiritual, almost.
We were a week in. The hairdryer heat of a blistering August had us limp and reclining. Lazy days were spent lounging round the trickling pool – G&T in one hand, chick-lit in the other, swallows ducking and diving overhead and the deafening chorus of randy cicadas. Sultry nights brought lively conversation to a score of Holst and Madonna, and tumblers of chilled plonk on the empty beach, counting shooting stars as the lights of Bodrum flickered on the horizon. It was sublime.
But John wanted more.
‘Let’s go for a walk,’ he said, peering over the top of a Jackie Collins.
‘What?’ I said. ‘In this heat?’
‘You can’t lie on your back with your legs up all the time,’ he said. ‘Mehmet’s getting the wrong idea.’
Mehmet, resident bottle-washer and dogsbody – and a dead ringer for Danny Kaye – showed a persistent interest, clipping bushes around us and throwing that all-too-familiar knowing look as he lit the candles each time the power was cut – a regular event most evenings. The lightless nights switched on the stars.
‘I think Mehmet’s got our number, don’t you?’ I said.
‘Look, the boys need a little privacy, you know, to get better acquainted,’ said John. ‘Nudge nudge, wink wink.’
I laughed. ‘They don’t need any encouragement. They’ve been at it like rabbits since we landed.’ I nodded at the two of them canoodling like horny otters in the pool. ‘Thank God I packed the earplugs.’
‘Oh, come on,’ said John. ‘Let’s go explore.’
Leaving behind our holiday companions to their splashing foreplay, we strolled through the ramshackle hamlet of Taşbükü and down to the sand and shingle beach. I was moist. I lifted my tee-shirt to dab my forehead and dry my specs. In the distance I could see Cleopatra Island, a verdant rock in the Gulf of Gökova. It shimmered, mirage-like.
‘Did you know,’ I said, pointing over with my glasses, ‘legend has it that Cleo snogged Mark Antony on the beach of Cleopatra Island?’
‘Oh,’ said John. ‘How very Deborah Kerr in From Here to Eternity. Wonder where he put his helmet?’
‘Where we all do, I imagine. So, where are we going?’
‘Over there, let’s go over there.’ John gestured to a long line of buildings at the far end of the bay.
‘Why?’ I said, unimpressed.
‘Because it’s there, stupid.’
Like intrepid explorers of old, we set about our quest with vigour, flip-flops in hand, splashing through the wash, joking and laughing along the way. It took about an hour to reach our destination – an assortment of identikit cubes toppling down the hill to the beach. We climbed the crazy paving steps through a rusting iron gate.
‘Oh, it’s just another holiday resort,’ John said, all drop-lipped.
‘Never mind,’ I said. ‘Let’s have a gander anyway. Could do with a drink. Spot of lunch, maybe?’
John agreed. ‘Yeah. A cheesy pide and a glass of Efes.’
We wandered along the winding leaf-littered paths, past locked-up houses with empty terraces dripping in twisted bougainvillea. It was desolate, all waterless pools and shuttered cafés.
‘Where is everybody?’ I said.
Where indeed. It was a ghost town – soul-less apart from a street dog nodding off in the shade and a few mangy cats bickering about the bins. There were no over-wrought toddlers splashing about, no tanked-up dads propping up the bar, no mums leathering-up under the sun, no courting couples getting hot under the collar in the sweltering heat. It was eerie and unsettling. Like walking through the abandoned set of Eldorado.
‘We’re being watched,’ John whispered.
‘What do you mean we’re being watched?’
‘Over there. There’s some bloke hiding behind that bush.’
I grinned. ‘Trust you to notice a man hanging round a bush.’ But John was right. A dusky face with a handlebar moustache was poking out between the branches of a pink oleander, mumbling into a walkie-talkie. We could just hear the screechy static.
‘Now what do we do?’ I said.
Our pace quickened. Moustache man didn’t follow.
But all of a sudden, a hook-nosed apparition in black appeared from the shadows – more screechy static.
‘Okay, that’s it,’ I said. ‘Best get out of here – sharpish. Let’s head back.’
‘We can’t go back,’ said John, starting to panic. ‘The black shirts are waiting for us.’
‘To do what, exactly?’ I said.
‘Haven’t you seen Midnight Express?’
‘Get a grip, John.’
We fast flop-stepped up the hill to the entrance of the development. Hook Nose stalked us all the way, keeping a wary distance. As we neared a boom gate at the top, a pretty boy with messy hair and a grin wider than his waist emerged from a sentry box and waved us through to the open road with his walkie-talkie.
Crisis over, we stood by the side of a dusty track gathering our thoughts.
‘Bloody hell,’ said John. ‘That was close. Thought we were gonna get strip-searched.’