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!

Cheers from Gran Canaria

It was the calm before the storm. We flew out just before Storm Ciara barrelled across the flatlands on the Jet2 poofs and pensioners express to Gran Canaria with an all-male crew who minced up and down the aisles dishing up relentless jollity with the booze. We fitted right in and celebrated with fizz.

For our fix of winter sun this year we’d gone a bit more upmarket, staying at the Canary Garden Club, a well-appointed collection of whitewashed bungalows set in lush, beautifully-tended gardens. The sparkling pool was gorgeous though somewhat marred by the assortment of old fossils drying out in the sun. Still, it made us feel young again.

This was intended to be R&R gig and so we only ventured out once to the Yumbo Center – the epicentre of gay nightlife in Playa Del Inglés – with its trashy bars with their trashy boys flaunting their trashy bits. A likely lad emerged from the shadows and offered us Charlie, and I don’t mean my mother’s favourite fragrance from the seventies.

The gay scene has evolved down the years from the small intimate bars of my youth, partially hidden from view so as not to offend the easily offended, to cocktail cafés spilling out everywhere, in-yer-face drag shows banging out the show tunes and brash cruising establishments that do exactly what they say on the signs, and more – Sodom and Gomorrah in sequins and leather. We left it to the wide-eyed and lustful, and were in bed by midnight.

Most days we dined early and watched the sun go down over the Atlantic – just what the doctored ordered after an over-eventful year.

We arrived back at Stansted late – too late to travel back all the way to the middle of nowhere – so we’d pre-booked a budget hotel, or so I’d thought. To my surprise and total delight, Liam had upgraded us for Valentine’s. And on the train back to Norwich the next day, the guard hole-punched our tickets with a heart. Who said romance is dead?

Rain, Rain, Go Away…

Rain, Rain, Go Away…

Since we became village people, hardly a day has passed when it hasn’t rained – drizzle one day, deluge the next and endless dreary skies. Even the ducks have had enough. So at this time of year a young (and not so young) man’s fancy turns to a bit of cheap fun in the sun. Unlike the ducks, we’re flying south to Gran Canaria.

Whereas in 2019 we lodged in a bijou men-only bungalow complex for wrinkly friends of Dorothy, this time we’ve going large and going upmarket. While it would be rude not to venture to the bars at least once for our annual no nonsense in-yer-face, up-for-anything fix, I suspect the main event will be chick-lit under a parasol by day and cocoa laced with a medicinal nightcap by bedtime.

SAD Season

SAD Season

When the big skies of Norfolk are low and dreary, the only remedy for seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is an emergency injection of sunshine. Happily, we don’t actually suffer from SAD but hey, any excuse for a holiday. And we thought we’d better get a trip under our belts before a hard Brexit brings the sky falling in. So we’re off to Gran Canaria for a bit of fun in the sun. To call Gran Canaria, with its cheap thrills and even cheaper men, a bit of a gay cliché is an understatement. And the icing on the cake is our stay at a men-only bungalow complex, one that tends to attract the slightly older gentleman. We’re expecting saggy arses, ravaged faces, walkers and a defibrillator on standby behind the bar. Liam intends to amuse himself by counting the liver spots round the pool. We should fit right in. Now that’s what I call sad.

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.