Mad Dogs and Englishmen: Part I

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.

‘Keep walking?’

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.’

‘Hmm,’ I said, winking. ‘Now there’s a thought.’

‘So, what now?’ said John.

‘Start walking?’

‘Walking?’ he said. ‘Walking where? We’re lost!’


Part II – Next Week!

Missing You Already!

I first met Clive Smith a few weeks into our first year of secondary school. My very first memory was him doing a skit of ‘The Fenn Street Gang’ – some of you oldies may remember the seventies sitcom. He was doing all the voices, mostly female I have to say. It was hysterical. I liked him instantly. A theatrical life beckoned.

We travelled together through our teenage years – birds of a feather, you could say. And what adventures we had.

There were the incredible school trips – all the way to Russia by train then back by sea on an old Soviet rust bucket. We shared the boat with a girl’s school from Scarborough and attempted to chat up the lasses – really, who were we trying to kid?

Then, a couple of years later, there was Transylvania – not many people go there. Sadly we never got to see Dracula’s Castle but we did see an awful lot of snow-capped mountains and tedious communist-era architecture. Yes, amazing trips. Not many schools put on that kind of show. How lucky were we? And I’m sure this is where Clive acquired his wanderlust. Who could forget the tale of a young Clive sailing up the Irrawaddy to smoke dubious substances with the locals. Not me; I never let him forget it.

But it was the afternoons in the front room of Clive’s home in South London I remember and treasure the most – gossiping and talking schoolboy sex to a soundtrack of Elton, 10cc, Alice Cooper and Bowie – lots of Bowie – oh, and way too much Roxy Music for my liking.

In the late seventies, Clive came to see me at work in Habitat on Chelsea’s King’s Road. He had something to tell me. ‘I’m gay,’ he announced. He’d come out to me next to a stack of trendy crockery in the middle of the shop floor. ‘No, you’re not,’ I replied. ‘I’d know if you were.’ Shows how little I did know.

For years after, Clive was always my Christmas Day guest of choice. Best thing was, veggie Clive always brought his own nut roast. How we laughed over the Coronation Street board game he brought one year. No we didn’t. It was rubbish.

Clive’s greatest attribute was his loyalty, to me certainly, even when I didn’t always deserve it. Typically, he was the first to visit me and Liam in Turkey – no mean feat out of season – and the first to drop by when we moved to the middle of nowhere in Norfolk, house-warmer in hand. It was a bottle of port. He knew us so well. He always kept in touch through time and distance. That was his talent.

I’d known Clive for nearly half a century and, for nearly half a century, we debated and argued, bitched and joked, fell out and fell in, laughed and cried, shared secrets and naughty thoughts.

We may have bickered for nearly fifty years but for nearly fifty years we also loved, more like brothers than friends. And that’s what counts in the end. So all I can now say is, ‘Missing you already.’

Clive died suddenly and without warning from a cardiac arrest on 16th January 2020. He was 58.

We Have the Stars

We Have the Stars

I’ve moved a lot in my time – more than most, I reckon. I dropped from the womb in utilitarian army digs in Canterbury then on to a central London military tenement, lots of fun in the sun in tropical Malaysia, down with a bump in damp and grey Hounslow (west London) and onwards to civvy street Wandsworth (south London). And all before I could vote. My flight from the nest took me on a swinging tour of London postcodes – W6, W14, W4, SW19, SW18, E7, E17, interrupted midway by a five-year residency in royal Windsor with a moustachioed man called Mike. Then came the Turkey years – Yalıkavak and Bodrum – before finally wading ashore in old Norwich town. I’ve done old build, new build, Charles the First to Barratt box. When Liam and I embarked on the latest move – my nineteenth – it was a fond farewell to the flash city centre micro-loft and a nervous hello to the village micro-cottage. As Liam said, paraphrasing the indomitable Bette Davis in Now, Voyager,

‘Oh, Jack, don’t let’s ask for the moon. We have the stars.’

Say it again, Bette.

Those stars better sparkle!

2018 and All That

2018 and All That

The world may be going to Hell in a handcart but the Pansies keep on blooming – year in, year out. I keep them fed and watered and I’m grateful to those who pass by to admire the display. As the New Year dawns and more dark clouds lurk on the horizon, it’s a good time to look back at the pansies that perked the most in 2018. Life is a Cabaret, Old Chum, romped home by a mile. Who knew a drag show in a circus tent could strike such a chord?

As for the also-rans, it’s the usual eclectic bunch – as befits my random rants and ramblings from daily life: cowboys, cross-dressers, the curse of modern parlance, movie misses, gym bunnies, Hellenic heaven, and stories old and new from the Land of the Sunrise.

Life is a Cabaret, Old Chum | Can I Get, Like, a Coffee? | My Brokeback Mountain Moment | Heal Thyself | Pretty in Pink | Do You Have a Tale to Tell? | Is This the Real Life? Is This Just Fantasy?A Hard Act to FollowOld Money, No MoneyPostcards from Crete

There’s No Place Like Home was the most shared. Similarly, in 2017, it was Home Sweet Home.  So I guess there really is no place like it.

And what was the most popular post from years past? For the second year running it’s that 2012 camp classic, Gran Canaria, Sex Emporium. It’s the title that won it. Shame on you.

With 2018 all wrapped up, we’re off to the Ivy for some posh nosh and to see in the New Year. Wishing everyone peace and prosperity for 2019.

From Crack to Smack

Liam’s busted ribs are mending slowly but surely and the pain has eased. At one point, I was considering putting him on the liquid morphine left over from my arterial bypass a few years back, but it’s well past its ‘use by date’ and I didn’t want Liam to go from crack to smack. A casualty of his temporary incapacity was a planned jolly to North Yorkshire. Since Liam could neither travel nor drink, our merry night in Leeds followed by a little festive fun in Knaresborough was off. My disappointment was partially redeemed by a recent five star Amazon review for that book I wrote seven years ago. Amazingly, it still sells, though less so these days. The reviewer simply wrote:
Fabulous read!
Thank you, Susan Pritchard. Have a fabulous Christmas. 1526749898