It was my birthday recently. I reached the grand old age of 55. I now qualify for Gestapo-controlled sheltered housing, all wipe-down high-back chairs and swirly carpets that stick to the soles of your shoes. En-suite facilities are now essential for those caught short at 3am moments (so much better than a bucket by the side of the bed). Just how did this happen? I remember the days of my deliciously misspent youth when summers of love seemed endless. Now an entire year passes by in a flash and I barely notice. Welcome to the epoch of Mr Grumpy.
Norwich is a retiring kind of town, the perfect place to hang up your boots. The micro-loft is the ideal roost, a lift just wide enough for a mobility scooter (I fancy a tiffany blue number with a harlequin shopping basket in fuchsia), tiny bills that won’t break the piggy bank and a small enough footprint to make light work of domestic drudgery. We’re spitting distance from the local quack for all those inconvenient ailments that get us all in the end. The medical centre comes with a handy on-site Boots for the pills and potions that will keep us going beyond our three score and ten (fingers crossed). And, when one of us does drop off the perch, the Co-operative funeral parlour is right next door (I hear they do a lovely spread, or is that spread you out lovely?) with the Samaritans opposite for the grieving widower. Should either of us try to hedge our bets by finding Jesus at the last minute, we’ve got a church on the corner. Amen to that.
2014 has been quite a year for us and our brethren…
Okay, okay, I tried to make it scan to the tune of ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ but failed miserably. Liam’s the musical one, not me. With such a helter-skelter year, I guess it’s it’s no wonder I didn’t get the second book out in time for the festive rush. The good news (or bad news, depending on your point of view) is that it’s with my publisher and will be out in the new year. Liam is hyperventilating at the prospect – my fiercest critic seems to like it. The blog’s done brisk business too with over ninety posts. Here are the top ten hits for 2014 – the usual diet of Turkish delights, smut, divine retribution, emigrey nonsense, men in women’s clothes, internet curios, fine guides and the love that dare not speak its name. I’m nothing if not predictable.
There is Bodrum and Then There is Turkey | The Biggest Cock in Town | The Great Flood | | Gumusluk Travel Guide | Pantigate | The Love Letter | Istanbul Pride 2014 | Desperately Seeking Doreen | Bearded Men in Dresses | Norwich-Over-the-Water
This was the most popular image for 2014. I can’t think why.
Here’s looking ahead to more pansy adventures in 2015. And the Man Booker Prize. And oh, a few less real life medical dramas would be nice. Happy New Year to one and all.
After several lean years, it seems that we Brits may be falling in love with Turkey all over again. You know things are on the up when the London Evening Standard Property Supplement runs a feature on the Bodrum Peninsula with our old cruising ground, Yalıkavak, and its fancy new marina, getting a special mention. This how I described our first glimpse of the whitewashed town in my first book, Perking the Pansies, Jack and Liam move to Turkey
As we breached the brow of the hill, we caught our first picture postcard glimpse of Yalıkavak shimmering at the end of a lush valley below like randomly scattered sugar cubes on an overgrown lawn.
Chapter 3, Back to the Future
These days the sugar cubes are tumbling over every hill and, at the top end of the market, this is what you can get:
It’s the kind of dream home that costs a whole lot more than the misleading £75,000 quoted in the ad. Also, what the agents don’t tell you (and why would they?) is that if you keep all your doors and windows open after sunset, you’ll get eaten alive by mozzies. Just so you know.
Fellow author, David Gee, recently uncovered a dusty old silver screen classic while rummaging around the video vault at the University of East Anglia. ‘Come With Me to Norwich‘ is a 1952 documentary presented by Richard Dimbleby, BBC patrician and father to David and Jonathan. It’s a ghostly narrative of a bygone era full of bulldog optimism set against the rising tide of a new world order. Fast-forwarding to 2014, it’s fascinating to see what’s gone the way of the dodo and what’s survived against the odds. Mid-Twentieth Century Norwich once traded in mustard, money, shoes and chocolate. But where are they now?
Colman’s of Norwich
In 1814, mustard maker, Jeremiah Colman, founded Colman’s of Norwich, four miles south of the city. By 1865 production had transferred to a large factory near the city centre where the firm still produces mustard and mustard-derived products as an operational division of that enormous global conglomerate, Unilever.
In 1797, merchant and banker, Thomas Bignold, founded the Norwich Union Society for the Insurance of Houses, Stock and Merchandise from Fire. The less than catchy name soon became known simply as Norwich Union. Today, the Footsie 100 company is branded as Aviva and is the sixth largest insurer in the world.
It was in 1792 that a cordwainer called James Smith made the first off the peg shoes, shoes that ordinary folk could afford. Unsurprisingly, Jimmy’s big idea caught on. The business evolved into the Startrite brand, manufacturing footwear for rug rats. Startrite is still headquartered in Norwich but manufacturing has been outsourced to India. Fortunately, that wasn’t the end of cordwaining in the city. Van Dal still make half a million pairs of gorgeous heels every year for Norfolk broads, drag queens and cross-dressers everywhere. The times they are still a-changing: Startrite is looking for a deep-pocketed investor and Van Dal is being sold to its employees.
In 1857, AJ Caley established a chemists business in London Street which evolved into a distiller of mineral water and a chocolatier. As the company grew, it moved to new premises in Chapelfield. The firm was sold off by the Caley family in 1918 and sold on to confectioners, Mackintosh, in 1932. In 1937, the first rolo rolled off the production line. This was soon followed by Munchies and Caramac, brands I have devoured with tooth-rotting regularity ever since being knee-high to a grasshopper. By 1969, Mackintosh had merged with Rowntree to make one of the world’s premier confectioners, but it wasn’t to last. In 1988, Rowntree-Mackintosh was controversially set upon by the Swiss food giant, Nestlé. The hostile takeover resulted in a period of savage cost-cutting. The Chapelfield factory was closed with a loss of over 900 jobs and all production was moved to York. The last rolo rolled off the Chapelfield production line in 1994.
There’s still a Caley’s of Norwich, manufacturer of fairtrade chocolate with an online business based in Hampshire and Caley’s Cocoa Cafe in Norwich’s Guildhall. What connection these businesses have to each other and to the old Caley family is anyone’s guess. Still, the name lives on.
Chapelfield Shopping Centre
The old Rowntree-Mackintosh chocolate factory has given way to the posh Chapelfield Shopping Centre. All that remains of the old industrial buildings are the granite millstones that used to grind the cocoa beans, now re-used as seating for the huddled gangs of smoking pariahs outside the rear entrance to the mall. Rolos have given way to Apple, Munchies to Mango. And so our post-industrial world is kept turning by rampant consumerism, conspicuous spending only interrupted by the occasional Costa coffee. Make mine a cappuccino. With a generous sprinkle of Cadbury’s on top.
House-sitting and house-swapping are fantastic low cost ways of getting to stay in some amazing places. We have old friends in Turkey who live in…
…Gökcebel, a sprawling village in the foothills above Yalıkavak. Their impressive detached pile is surrounded on all sides by a well-manicured walled garden and patrolled by a trio of cats brought in from the bins. Just like its owners, the house is elegant, unpretentious and homely.*
They often exchange their village homestead for ruritanian French gites and posh Californian condos. All they ask (along with the place not being trashed, obviously) is that their soporific cats are fed and watered. Easy.
Now we’re in our new gaff, we might get in on the act. There must be people out there who wouldn’t mind laying their hat in a well-appointed micro-garret with all mod-cons minutes away from the delights of Norwich and her embarrassment of riches. Ours is a lock-up-and-leave loft, small but beautifully formed (like me). All we’d ask is that guests turn the lights out as they leave. I guess we’d have to hide the dressing-up box and battery-operated play things. Or maybe not.
Sometimes, this care-taking lark can be a tad more challenging. Take, for example, the menagerie owners in Hockwold cum Wilton (yes, that is a genuine place) who pretty much need a qualified zoo keeper to look after their duo of dairy goats (Simone and Ashia), a pack of terriers (Monty, Blossom, Scarlett and Sanya), a clutter of cats (Jarvis and KC), a brace of drakes (Flappy and Ballerina), a nest of guinea pigs (Hearty and Chubby), a clutch of chickens (including randy roosters) and a small shoal of goldfish. Sounds a bit too much like work experience at Whipsnade for my liking and besides, I’d be terrified of killing something. Still, there are no shortage of goat-herders applying for the busman’s holiday. They’re fully booked.
Thanks to Roving Jay for the heads up on this one.
*From Turkey Street, Jack and Liam’s Bodrum Tales out soon.