I wanted to see ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’ when it was released in 2012. It’s my kind of film but not the kind that got a screening at the plush cinema in Bodrum which tended to focus on Hollywood blockbusters, more’s the pity. We could have lifted a dodgy download from the enterprising Low Countries couple who did a roaring trade in counterfeit DVDs for the emigreys but I’m rather anti the whole it’s-not-really-stealing thing. Actually, it is. So, I was resigned to stalking the bargain bucket to acquire a proper copy at a knock-down rather than a knock-off price. My patience was rewarded and we picked up the film for a song at our local Norwich HMV store.
We uncorked the wine, turned off the lights and put our feet up. It was well worth the long wait. The tall tale is about a disparate group of cash-strapped Brits who up sticks, drop off their excess baggage at check-in and travel to the sun to eke out a low-cost dotage in an emigrey enclave (in this case, a run-down retirement hotel in India). Sounds strangely familiar and not so tall after all. The funny and tender script, heaving with sharp one-liners and set against the glorious chaos of the sub-continent, is delivered with expert thespian timing by the outstanding cast (including that pair of incomparable old Dames – Judi and Maggie). I didn’t want it to end
Let Dame Judi tell it as it is:
“There’s no past that we can bring back by longing for it, only a present that builds and creates itself as the past withdraws.”
Did the old wrinklies heed the advice and find redemption and contentment? Do any of us? Now, that would be telling.
It’s curious how extended families, so close in childhood days, can grow slowly apart as children age and move on. I guess it’s related to our modern existence of social mobility, dispersal and transience. My own family is a case in point. When I was growing up, my mother and her siblings were very chummy and we spent much of our time squatting in each other’s houses even when we lived in different parts of the country. An effort was made, the bond was important. But, imperceptibly, the bond gradually eroded, finally snapping when nobody was looking. These days, only funerals bring the clan together (weddings and christenings are as rare as ginger nuns in my largely heathen tribe).
Last week I attended the funeral of my Uncle James. He was 87. The Grim Reaper called at night and Jim died quietly in his sleep. The funeral service was nose to nipple (clearly, dying young isn’t the only way to get a healthy crowd in for a send-off). Late-comers were forced to stand at the back.
There were many things I knew about my uncle. I knew that after his wife (and my favourite aunt), Ruth died and, following a minor stroke, Jim found physical and emotional recovery through fitness and jogging. I also knew that he first completed the London Marathon when he was 73. I didn’t know that Jim went on to complete 8 marathons in all and raise £16,000 for a local cancer charity in the process. I didn’t know that he was given a Local Hero Award, an MBE and selected to carry the 2012 Olympic Torch when it went on national tour last year. Uncle Jim enjoyed a star-spangled dotage. This is a grand lesson to us all.
I also didn’t know how to knot my black tie. After a five year absence from the wicked world of the waged, I’d simply forgotten. This doesn’t auger well for my own dotage.
So far, the start of spring has been a nipple-hardening affair. Wild March winds are whistling across the East Anglian flatlands and snow flurries swirl around the daffodils. Thank God for central heating and high tog duvets. March has also been remarkable for a flurry of activity for Perking the Pansies, Jack and Liam move to Turkey. The middle of the month saw a spike in sales sending it to the top of the Amazon charts. I know not why. Then, quite by chance, Twitter of all things alerted me to a review of the book in the Turkish Daily News. The out-of-the-blue piece was written by Hugh Pope, an eminent writer and journalist. Hugh lives in Istanbul and has assembled an impressive CV – The Wall Street Journal, The Independent, Reuters, and United Press International as well as three critically acclaimed books under his belt – Dining with Al-Qaeda, Sons of the Conquerors and Turkey Unveiled. These days, Hugh is Project Director (Turkey/Cyprus) for the International Crisis Group. This is serious stuff for a serious writer who knows a thing or two about Turkey and the wider region. He’s a busy man and I’m not sure how a little-known book by an unknown author caught his attention but I’m grateful that it did. Hugh gets the book in a way some others don’t. It might be a gossipy tale written in comic carry-on style and tied up with a pink ribbon, but there is a more thoughtful message in there too. Thank you, Hugh, for seeing it.
Anything Maggie Smith does is alright with me. She could break wind on screen and I’d give her a standing ovation. She’s just my kind of actress, like Judi Dench and Joan Plowright. No wonder I have multiple orgasms when I watch ‘Tea with Mussolini’ – Maggie, Judi, Joan AND Cher. It’s a gay boy’s wet dream. Liam didn’t have to ask me twice when he suggested we see ‘Quartet,’ Maggie’s latest flick. Adapted from the original play, Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut is set in a retirement home for classical musicians and singers. Maggie stars alongside Tom Courtney, Pauline Collins, Billy Connolly and Michael Gambon with a supporting chorus of real-life former divas, fiddlers, and ivory ticklers. We took our seats at Cinema City, our local picture house. The auditorium was crammed with half-cut old folk of Norfolk spending their winter fuel allowance on buckets of booze, illustrating that not every pensioner in the land is living on the edge of malnutrition and hypothermia. The film is a sweet tale of long-lost love reignited in old age. It brought back fine memories of an old friend’s mother who moved into sheltered housing and married the boy next door. At the time, they were both in their eighties and found a little companionship and happiness towards the end of their lives. I was honoured to be invited to their wedding. It gave me hope for the future, something I’ve clung onto ever since.
Naturally, Maggie as a crabby old opera singer was magnificent but, for me, Pauline Collins stole the show. Her touching performance of someone suffering from the onset of dementia, slipping in and out of cognisance, was delicately and beautifully played. Dementia is a subject Liam and I know only too well.
Now that our frivolous semi-retired life among the lotus-eating emigreys of the Aegean is behind us, I thought I’d mark the transition with a major makeover. Not me, of course (far too late for that). Regular readers will have noticed that the blog is now dressed in more sober attire. Backtobodrum commented:
“I have to comment that your blog now looks very organized and serious. Have you two gone back to wearing suits and ties?”
It’s an interesting observation because, in a way, we have. Liam’s got himself a part time job doing something with data. So much for giving up the wicked world of the waged but needs must when the Devil drives. The demon in this case is the continuing slide in Turkish interest rates. It’s a pre-emptive strike. We’re spending more or less the same here as we did in Bodrum, but we need to stitch the little hole that first appeared in the family purse a couple of years back. Working part time enables Liam to plug the gap and to meet his family obligations (the main reason we came back to Blighty). It also enables me to make a proper go at this writing lark (the other reason). When I get the film deal, Liam will be released from paid labours and return to his main function in life – sorting me out and peeling me grapes.
Our little quarter of old Norwich is like a retirement village, jam-packed with sheltered housing schemes – from modern red brick to post-industrial grand. We’re surrounded by the old folk of Norfolk, placing us in pole position for the next vacancy. It reminds me of our fright nights in off-season Yalıkavak when we first dipped our toes in Turkish waters. The difference is that round here there are no randy cats or baying dogs to keep us from our slumber.
Our silent nights are a world away from the Saturday night fever that unfolds just a few streets along. Lazy days are regularly disturbed by the street-wise pigeons who coo, poo and screw on the narrow ledges of the buildings around us. The bonking birds cleverly confound the spikes and nets intended to keep them from their lofty urban roosts and happily bestow their blessings on the passers-by below. There’s good luck splattered everywhere. It’s a scene from Hitchcock’s The Birds.
We only have one immediate neighbour. We’ve nodded hello in typically British reticent style. She must be very learned and well-read judging by the constant stream of Amazon deliveries. I must butter her up and generate more commission through my website, it could be a nice little earner. As a fellow blogger and author once remarked “Jack, you’re such a tart, on so many levels.” If the cap fits.
I’m supposed to be resting, putting my feet up and watching the pansies grow. Instead I’ve jumped onto a blogging and writing treadmill. It’s taken me by surprise. I had no idea this would happen when we left Blighty. My mornings are spent doing what I call my admin – checking my emails, approving comments, deleting spam and catching up on the weird and wonderful blogs I’ve come across in my new vocation. My personal favourites are listed under Jack’s Favourites – take a look at the side bar. My admin takes a couple of hours each day. I have to be ruthlessly single-minded, otherwise I’d be overwhelmed. Liam says I’ve turned into a geek. Just like the bad old days, when I returned from holiday to hundreds of emails that took days to clear. My major irritant is the number of spam emails I get, urging me to buy slimming pills or viagra. These days I may no longer have a 26 inch waist and my tackle may take a little longer to fire up, but for the record, I am neither fat nor impotent (important yes, impotent, no).
I’m really grateful that people take the time to say a word or two about what I have written. I do get the occasional strange message, nothing offensive, just odd. I don’t mind at all. It adds to the rich tapestry of life in pansyland. Thank you to one and all.
I tend to dedicate a couple of afternoons a week to my posts and write three or four at a time. If I didn’t block write in this way, Liam and I wouldn’t have a life and I’d have nothing to write about. My summer is being spent finishing my book (have I mentioned I’m writing a book?) which is curtailing our social activities a little. Not too much though, we’re determined to enjoy our balmy days in the sun.
Liam is my greatest fan and fiercest critic. He cracks the whip and damns my sloppy words, but lavishes praise when I get it right. He’s also a domestic marvel, keeping me fed and watered and doing most of the daily chores (in Liam’s world, that’s sweeping the dust under the rugs). I do the laundry and stack the dishwasher, both of which, of course, require greater skill.
Is my new career worth it? You bet it is.
Don’t forget to nominate me in the Cosmo Blog Awards. Only if you feel like it, of course. See the oversized badge on the sidebar.