One thing I won’t miss about the Weaver’s Cottage is the bath. It’s enormous. I’m not the mightiest of men (at 5’ 5.5” and shrinking in my socked feet) so it’s like lying in a flotation tank. I have to grip the tap with my toes to stop myself from going under. At 6′, Liam fares a little better, but not much. Thankfully, our new gaff has a bath of standard dimensions. I’m looking forward to giving the shower a miss messing about in the bubbly hot tub, glass of chilled white in one hand and a copy of ‘The Week’ in the other. Fabulous.
Mind you, I didn’t always covet bath time with such decadent relish. As a child of the Sixties and the youngest of four (until my sister accidentally came along and usurped my position as baby of the family), I was last in line for the soak and sponge. Back in the day, we lived in the married quarters of the former Royal Army Medical College along Millbank next to Tate Britain in central London. Accommodation was strictly army-issue utilitarian, no central heating and only rudimentary hot water. Like families up and down the realm, Sunday night was bath night in the Scott household and we all took turns for a scrub. It was done in chronological order so by the time I climbed into the bath, the water was tepid and covered in an oil slick. Disgusting really. These days it would be considered child abuse. But then we’re talking about the era before deodorant, when men were men and pits were ripe. The Sixties stank as well as swung.
The Medical College closed in the Seventies and the buildings now form part of the London University of the Arts. It’s a sign of the times and one I rather approve of. This was our billet:
The parade ground once had a small children’s playground on the right of the image and that’s where I did my swinging while my father counted beans in the offices on the far side. I’ve passed the building many times in recent years. In fact, Liam and I got hitched just round the corner in the Sky Lounge in what was the City Inn Hotel. It’s the Hilton now. You see, nothing stands still and in my book that’s a good thing.
In the summer of 2012, we parachuted into Norwich on a wing and a prayer. We hadn’t the slightest inkling whether this golden-oldie city of medieval steeples would suit us or not. It was a difficult ask: somewhere we could replant our off-peak life but avoid the workhouse and somewhere within a bearable commute of London so we could keep tabs on our folks.
When we first paddled up the Wensum, we somehow ended up living in a Grade II listed Seventeenth Century brick and flint weaver’s cottage. The place had been through the wars and oozed history. By the Nineteenth Century, weaving had gone the way of the dodo and the cottage was reincarnated as a public house. In the Thirties, the Great Depression depressed ale sales along with everything else and time was called on the Devil’s brew. After that, the building gradually fell into miserable dereliction, boarded up and unloved. The final insult came when the building was gutted by fire; demolition seemed likely. Cue the city elders who stepped in with their compulsory purchase powers, repaired the structure, modernised the fabric and flogged it off. In 1986 the Weaver’s Cottage was reborn as two comfortable maisonettes with all mod-cons. The partially charred beams above our marital bed are the one remaining sign of that near-death experience.
A year and a bit on, those itchy feet are back but this time we’re moving across town, not continents. We’re rather taken with Norwich and have decided to put down roots by buying a small piece of it (while we can still afford to). So it’s goodbye to our pretty weaver’s cottage with its olde worlde beams, toffee-coloured fireplace and drafty halls and hello to our handsome warehouse conversion just beyond the old city walls with big picture windows, views across the burbs and proper insulation. We’re expecting our bills to plummet. Otherwise, that workhouse beckons.
The beauty of renting is that we’re not responsible for all those annoying little things that inevitably go wrong around the home. We had a dodgy boiler that refused to heat water (though it was more than happy to heat the radiators, even when not asked). Our friendly landlady despatched a boiler-suited chatty man with cute dimples. He installed a brand new heat exchanger (No idea? Me neither). I provided tea for his labours and listened intently to my boiler man recall his boiler tales. A dull date on a Saturday night, I thought. Despite the cute dimples.
Then we became undone by a temperamental washing machine that only spun when it could be arsed. The reluctant spin went on for weeks. We were seriously in danger of being buried under sopping piles of dripping undies. Our landlady dispatched a smiley man in baggy bottoms and a corporate polo top. I provided tea for his labours as he tried to wring a final spin out of the moody machine. “It’s knackered,” he concluded. His home-spun words were music to my ears. I almost invited him out for dinner.
A week later, our landlady despatched a replacement appliance escorted by a thick-set older man with an even thicker-set accent. He was accompanied by a spotty young apprentice. “Where’s it plugged in?” asked the old man. “Absolutely no idea,” I replied. After a lot of huffing and puffing, hauling and heaving, he found the socket behind the fridge. Then I watched him slice the live wire with a Stanley knife. The loud bang almost gave me a seizure. Unlike me, he wasn’t the least bit perturbed by the black flume and strong whiff of electrical burn or the fact that he’d blown all the sockets in the kitchen. The young spotty thing was shocked into silence. For one brief moment, I thought I’d been beamed back to Bodrum where all workers are fully qualified electricians/plumbers/carpenters/roofers/rocket scientists (delete as appropriate).
Laurel and Hardy didn’t get tea for their trouble, I can tell you. Well, the kettle wasn’t working.
The minor inconvenience of existing tenants meant that we had to wait a while for our medieval Weaver’s cottage in Norwich. To avoid continual sofa-hopping, we decided on a budget tour of east East Anglia. Our first stop was Lowestoft, England’s most easterly town. We were greeted by blustery squalls blowing in from the North Sea and a large ugly concrete water tower (can someone tell me what they’re for?). Lowestoft itself is a neat but empty little place. The population seemed to have died off from terminal boredom. The only person we noticed strolling along the prom was a bottle-blond Norfolk broad, subtly bedecked in hoop ear-rings, stars-and-stripes lycra leggings and a bubble jacket. We booked a cheap night in a Winelodge. The solitary person on duty was a thin, tattooed boy with retreating hair. He acted as concierge, waiter and barman. It was just as well there was nobody to serve. Our room was a designer postage stamp overlooking the bins. Making a cuppa was a delicate operation: the mini-kettle was so close to the mini-flat screen TV, I thought the steam might blow it up. The only excitement was a power cut at 7am. I had to dump and douche in the dark. The first person on duty fed the meter and lo, let there be light.
We took a drive through Great Yarmouth, a sad and rusty little place with a magnificent beach but its greatness firmly behind it. Despite being Liam’s playground of choice as a slip of a lad, we decided against stopping for a windy trip down memory lane. Apparently, Yarmouth is one of the most deprived areas of East Anglia. The great and good of the county have decided that granting a licence for a super casino will provide the answer to a fed-up seaside resort on its knees. Las Vegas-on-Sea? The entire concept reminded me of Edmonton Green Shopping Centre near Liam’s folks, a tired little enclave where the betting shop is next to the pawnbrokers.
Our loft aspirations turned to dust. Someone else reached the finishing line before us and we were back to square one. Do not pass go, do not collect £200. This is what happens when dreamy loft lodgings are offered to several letting agents simultaneously: chaos and disappointment run amok. Still, at least our reservation fee was promptly refunded. Decent billets were flying off the shelves at a rate of knots so we rose early to catch the elusive worm, zipping back up the A11 in our borrowed Renault Megane at the crack of dawn. It was a fruitful tour. On our first viewing we bagged ourselves a genuine 17th Century weaver’s cottage at the edge of Norwich’s medieval quarter just a short sashay from the action. So, instead of a writer’s garret, I shall be weaving my words in a converted artisan’s flint and brick dwelling dating from the 1640s. Just think, the original weaver first moved into his brand new designer hovel (no mod-cons at the time) when the humourless Protestant Taliban chopped off Charlie Stuart’s head, established the English republic, banned music, closed down the play houses and outlawed Christmas (and let’s not even talk of the unspeakable things they did to the Irish). It’s no wonder the Commonwealth didn’t last; it was so boring. I wonder what Killjoy Cromwell would have made of us? Off with their heads?
After viewings that ranged from the dreary to the dreadful, we found our Norwich city centre loft in appropriately named Queen’s Street. It’s a newly converted top-floor, top drawer flat with skylights, down lights and grey appliances with real feel-appeal. Yes, we are that shallow. The apartment is above a trendy bar with a student clientele. We’d rather hoped it would be a seedy clip joint to cement the sanitised neo-Bohemian garret theme we were looking for. Back at the letting agents, we paid our fee for our credit assessment. Without being prompted, the nice young man processed our application as a married couple which gave us a bit of a discount.
On the last evening of our exploratory week, we celebrated our continued good fortune at the Premier Inn restaurant where the fare was surprisingly good and wine surprisingly fine. As we raised our glasses, we watched the smart suits with smart phones file in two by two. It sent a visible shudder down Liam’s spine as he was rudely reminded of his old laboured life. “Never again,” he muttered. Our young waiter was a busy walker who darted about dispensing friendly but unobtrusive service to his charges. Now we’ve left Turkish airspace, my gaydar is fully-functional and we exchanged sly we-both-know-what-we-are glances. At the end of his shift, he joined us for a large glass of red and a little casual conversation. He’d recently moved from Devon to Norwich to be with his new partner and gave us the low down on the low life of the Norwich gay scene. Apparently, times were tough when he first got off the bus. It took him three months to find a job. He said:
“I was the assistant manager of a motorway service station. It had a Burger King and a Costa Coffee. I was trained in both. They said I was over-qualified.”
The Bodrum Bulletin has just updated its annual grocery price check, comparing Britain with Turkey. This exercise was first started in 2009 using the same basket of goods from Sainsbury’s (in the UK) and Migros (in Turkey). The headline is that the price differential between the two countries has been gradually eroded since the survey started. In 2009 the British basket cost 26% more, whereas today the difference is less that 10%.
As with all things, the devil is in the detail. Buying habits vary from person to person and the comparison is affected by the prevailing lira to pound exchange rate. Nevertheless, it does indicate a direction of travel during these recessionary times. We residents all know that booming Turkey is no longer the low cost paradise it used to be. To add to the depressing trend, the Turkish Government has just hiked the price of gas by nearly 19% and the price of electricity by just over 9%.
A year ago, I set Liam a challenge. I wanted to know the cost of living for our kind of life in Britain, Spain and Turkey. He calculated our average monthly spend on the typical stuff we consume – food, booze, fags, essential trips back to London, rent, bills, healthcare, insurances, etc. He also used Migros for the Turkish grocery shop, comparing it to Tesco’s in Britain and a major Spanish chain. At the time, the results showed that living in Spain would cost a fifth less overall whereas living in Britain (outside London) would cost a third more.
The same analysis today (excluding Spain) paints a completely different picture. Our British living costs will be on par with our Turkish expenses. This is almost entirely due to the low rent we expect to pay in Norwich and the fact that we’re (almost) a smoking-free family. This isn’t the reason we’ve decided to leave our foster home but, as they say at Tesco’s, every little helps.