Blogging, Books, Expats, Religion, Turkey & Turkish, Writing

My Life Abroad

Since 2011, the people at Blog Expat have been shining a little light on expatland by interviewing bloggers from city to steppe, temperate to tropical. They’ve assembled quite an archive over the years. So when I heard they were to publish an anthology of their best stories, I thought it was a good idea. And when I heard they were to include me among the chosen, I thought it was a great idea.

My Life Abroad, a Selection of Expat Stories was published in September 2016. All the participants received a complimentary copy of the book which was a generous touch. Mine dropped on the mat a few weeks back and naturally I gave it a good thumbing. No one could question the book’s scale and ambition. There are abridged versions of 55 interviews and all continents apart from Antarctica are represented. Oddly, though, the contributors are kept anonymous, presumably to protect the guilty.

Every piece is prefaced with an jokey illustration. My own story has two men in summer attire framed on one side by a Shia cleric and on the other by a woman in a burka. Of course it could be a bloke in drag. That’s the point of a burka – you can’t tell. Now, most Turks are Sunnis and I’ve seen more Saudi-style full body bags in Harrods. In my interview I wrote…

Some people show breath-taking ignorance of the Islamic world, tarring all Muslim countries with the same negative brush. No, we aren’t subject to Sharia Law. No, gay people aren’t routinely lynched by rabid mobs of mad mullahs. No, women aren’t forced into marriage as soon as they hit puberty and dressed head to toe in black poly-cotton sheets (well, not in Bodrum anyway). Turkey isn’t perfect but it isn’t Iran.

So I’m hoping the cartoon is intended to be ironic.

Despite the potential faux pas, many of the stories are fun, thoughtful and well worth buying a bookmark for.

 

Americans, Britain, Expats, Family & Friends, Politics

Something Nasty in the Air

The good people at Displaced Nation asked me to join a motley crew of expats, repats, and otherwise displaced types to discuss Brexit and the presidential carry-ons on the far side of the pond. Gawd knows they asked me but I chucked my two-penneth in anyway. Obviously, it was a virtual panel. We didn’t actually get together to navel-gaze over our americanos, more’s the pity.

Trump and Farage

Our verdict was delivered a few days ago. Sadly, though, a few of my best lines were left out…

Back here in old Norwich, ‘to trump’ means ‘to break wind’ in local parlance. There’s definitely a whiff in the air and it ain’t pleasant. And what happens when the bad smell doesn’t deliver?

Don’t know why. Maybe Yanks just don’t like fart jokes? Anyway, you can read the full piece here.

Bars & Restaurants, Beach, Bodrum, Bodrum Belles, Emigreys, Expats, Family & Friends, Flying, Food & Drink, Holidays, Hotels, Norwich, Parties, Turkey & Turkish, Turkey Street, Vetpats, VOMITs

Perking the Pansies

Our hobbling tour of Bodrum was something of a boozy whirlwind and confirmed I can’t do multiple piss-ups anymore. It was season’s end with flight prices to match, but the interminable limp through Stansted was a brutalising experience when compared to our little local airport. Working to a slum-it budget, we bagged ourselves a hotel in Bodrum for eleven quid a night, breakfast included. Nothing much worked in our barrel-scraped digs but the family-run gaff was clean and convenient. This was the first time we had set foot on Turkish soil since we called time on our Anatolian adventure in 2012 and we were determined to make hay. Naturally, the wedding of the year was the main event but we also wanted to share a jar or two with some of our old muckers, so we pitched our standard on a Bodrum Beach and waited for battle to commence. The onslaught came in waves and after nine hours of friendly fire, talking ten to the dozen about everything under the moonlit sky, we staggered to the nearest taxi rank. A huge hand to all the Bodrum belles and beaus who really made our day. You know who you are.

These images are as blurred as our vision was by the end of the evening.

Of course, no trip back to Bodrum would have been complete without a reunion of the Sisterhood…

… the antidote to the VOMITing sickness that afflicts the many Shirley Valentines who wash up like driftwood on the beaches of Turkey. Many of the Sisters are reformed VOMITs who’ve been through the ringer, some more than once, but have emerged to tell the tale stronger and wiser. The Sisters stick together (like birds of a feather), because men are rubbish.

Expat Glossary

So after a day trip down memory lane along Turkey Street (more of this later), we joined the Sisterhood in Musto.

Musto was top of our list and sat in a prime location on Marina Boulevard opposite the smart shopping parade. Its handsome young owner, Mustafa the Magnificent, was second cousin to our landlady and a generous and convivial host. The eponymous Mustafa learned his trade at Sünger, his uncle’s legendary pizza parlour, a place that had been dishing up margheritas to the sailing squad since the early seventies. Unlike some of his rivals, Mustafa never resorted to pressganging people in from the street. He courted the emigrey crowd with Italian seasoning, palatable wine, affordable prices and generous yolluks. It was a formula that attracted swarms of discerning diners, even out of season.

Turkey Street

mustoMusto has expanded considerably since our last visit, though I’m pleased to say the menu and ambience remain special. Back in the day, regular meetings of the Sisterhood always kept the pansies perked, particularly during the chilly winter months when Bodrum life was as a slow as pond water. Thank you Doc, Jess and Victoria.

There was a distinct autumnal nip when we got back to Norwich and the heating went on for the first time since the spring. A day or two later, Liam departed for London on family duties so I sank into the sofa to watch an ancient episode of Midsomer Murders on ITV3 with my carcinomic ankle resting on a Swedish pouffe. I was unsettled. We thought our trip back to Bodrum would be our swansong. Now I’m not so sure. Despite challenging political times, Turkey has worked her magic all over again. Blimey.

bodrum-beach

Books, Expats, Springtime Books, Turkey & Turkish, Writing

The Accidental Writer

Katherine Hepburn is reputed to have said:

Death will be a great relief. No more interviews.

InterviewLike the late, great Ms Hepburn, I used to get probed by all and sundry when we were fairies in a faraway land. Alas, it all but dried up when we returned to the old country and became happy nonentities. So, when an invite dropped on the mat requesting my presence at Writing…Just Because, I re-sharpened my blunt quill with a meat cleaver and scribbled a whole load of nonsense about hard-boiled expats, the road to writing ruin and my days as an unrepentant eavesdropper.

You can catch my pearls of wisdom here.

Armed Forces, Children & Young People, Expats

Reflections of an Army Brat

Attending the annual Families in Global Transition jamboree in Amsterdam last month (#FIGT16NL) got me thinking about my own minor experience as a ‘third culture kid’ (TCK for short) – children and young people who are raised in a culture different from that of their parents for a significant part of their developmental years. For good or ill, we live in a world of mass migration and the term can apply to anyone along the #TCK continuum – a child desperately fleeing a war zone clinging to a hopelessly overcrowded dinghy or children flying business class hanging on the coattails of an executive parent. Such things present their own emotional challenges, though I’m sure we all agree the plight of a refugee child is way off the scale.

I was born in married quarters and was an army brat for the first ten years of my life. My Dad was posted here and there and I attended four different primary schools, three of which are still molding young minds. The fourth, Mountbatten Primary School, Terendak Camp, Malaysia, is long gone. Malaysia was my one and only experience of living abroad as a child. I have no deep or wise words about our semi-colonial tropical idyll except to say I had a ball. I ran around Mowgli-style half naked and shoeless, climbed exotic trees (and fell out of a few), got stung by nasty red ants, crashed a homemade go-cart into a concrete monsoon drain (I still have the scar to prove it), played Chinese hopscotch with our maid, built a den out of army-issue packing crates under lofty coconut trees, learned to swim and got all my badges, tasted my first vanilla milkshake and played I’ll-show-you-mine-if-you-show-me-yours with the girl next door. The only cultural dislocation I remember feeling was when we arrived back at RAF Northolt in West London. It was a cold and wet November day and I didn’t like it one little bit. And I never got to play Chinese hopscotch ever again.

Here are some old, well-worn and torn snaps – Mum in her best sequined frock and Dad looking dapper in his dress uniform, me with my little sister just after she was born, an undersized me posing with my oversized scooter, me with my best friend and a strapping Aussie lad (right) who tried to mug me out of my pocket money and made me cry, and a really hazy image of Mountbatten School I found on Digger History.

All in all, not a bad gig.

Blogging, Books, Expats, Flying, LGBT, Social Media, Springtime Books, Turkey Street

It’s All Double Dutch to Me

A couple of weeks ago I popped over to the low land of dykes, bikes, canals, tall thin blonds and tall thin buildings. I’ve been to old Amsterdam many, many times before. Back in the day, Amsterdam was a blesséd escape from finger-wagging, buttoned-up Britain, and a place where I could feel totally free. I won’t regale you with ripe tales of how I expressed that freedom – this is a family show, after all. Needless to say, it rarely involved a cultural troll round the marvellous galleries of the Rijks Museum.

Here’s an ancient image of me in the naughty Nineties on one of my gayfests.

scan0047

I’m standing on the Homomonument, a memorial to those persecuted for their sexuality. Opened in 1987, the monument takes the form of a large pink triangle jutting out into the Keizersgracht canal. It’s a potent symbol: the pink triangle was the badge of shame gay men were forced to wear in the Nazi concentration camps during World War Two. And we all know what happened in those places.

This time I was there on business. I was attending the 2016 Families in Global Transition Conference (#FIGT16NL), a gig that brought together people from far flung corners, all concerned with issues affecting global families. The current refugee crisis in Europe and the Middle East added an extra layer of complexity to this year’s august jamboree.

Why me? You may well ask. I’m neither an expat, nor a family in transition (not anymore anyway). In fact, I was there as part of my work with Summertime Publishing and Springtime Books, specialists in expat titles. And I was asked to lead a social media workshop for writers. It was a bit of a hit, I’m told. I even got to sell signed copies of my books in the FIGT bookshop – and was more than chuffed when they flew off the shelves and soon sold out. Clearly some people like a dash of camp with their esoteric.

Here’s me flapping my hands about in the social media workshop.

FIGT Workshop

And me on the right grinning inanely in the bookshop.

FIGT Bookshop

After a hectic few days navigating through the talkers, walkers, cars, trams and manic cyclists on a mission coming at me from every which way, I landed back at Norwich Airport at ten to nine in the evening. I was home with a large glass of Pinot in hand twenty minutes later. Now that’s the way to travel.

If you’d like to know more about Families in Global Transition and their valuable work, check out their website. In the meantime, here are some pretty pictures I took of the pretty city.

The conference pictures are courtesy of FIGT.

Books, Expats, Istanbul, Turkey & Turkish

Ghost of Gallipoli

Ellie McKnight is a bright academic working at Belfast University. When she falls for a minor diplomat, Ellie throws caution to the wind, jettisons her career and follows him to a posting at the British Consulate in Istanbul. And so begins her extraordinary journey in Margaret Whittock’s ingenious and atmospheric novel, Ghost of Gallipoli. Ellie is quickly chucked into the rarified world of the diplomatic corps and it’s a loose fit. Ensconced in the grand imperial pile that was the old British embassy during the days of the Sultans, she crashes into the pomposity of middle England and we are treated to a legion of midget-minded expatriates (sends a shiver down my spine and dark memories flooding back) – a ‘tight-knit group of wives into jam and chutney making’ led by head bitch, Alice Melefont.

But all is not as it seems.

Events take a spooky twist when Ellie encounters the restless soul of her great uncle Jack – an eighteen year old Private from Ulster, cannon fodder for the Gallipoli debacle of the Great War. To find some peace, Jack’s spirit is resolved to exact revenge on the descendants of those responsible for his premature demise (‘I went to war, never fired a single shot, never killed anyone, why should I have to suffer like this?’) and he needs Ellie’s earthly help. Once Ellie recovers from the disbelief and shock, the determined duo launch a dastardly partnership.

Margaret gives us a warts and all account of 1990’s Istanbul, avoiding overwrought romanticism (‘a blanket of smog often hung over the city, a poisonous mixture of lignite and car exhaust fumes’) but we never doubt the city’s power to beguile as we see Ellie ‘transfixed by the brutal beauty of the place’. With some chilling flashbacks to the Gallipoli carnage and a tantalising climax delayed until the very last pages, Ghost of Gallipoli fires on all cylinders.

Margaret was inspired to write her novel after discovering the headstone of her great uncle in a Gallipoli war cemetery. The novel is a taut and atmospheric thriller, a cleverly plotted, well-paced drama, peppered with twists and turns. It is, as they say, a ripping yarn.