Ye Olde Curiosity Shop

Ye Olde Curiosity Shop

The traditional high street is under seige from a flat-lining economy, increased rents (no, I don’t understand that either during a recession) and the relentless pressure from the big boys with their charmless out-of-town retail parks sucking up all the trade. Norwich seems to have bucked the trend by preserving its novelty. Of course, the narrow maze of city centre streets has its fair share of chains with their identikit offerings but there’s also a treasure trove of independents to graze. Maybe the city’s relative isolation is its saviour (the last section of the dual carriageway from the Smoke is only now being built and the train service is express-less). Perhaps it’s a benign planning environment by farsighted burghers. Who knows? Whatever the reason, long may it continue. Here’s just a small sample to whet the appetite and loosen the purse.

Jarrolds is a Norwich institution. The family-run business has outlets dotted about all over the shop. The Book Hive is the best independent bookshop in town. Both Jarrolds and the Book Hive declined to stock my book. Jarrolds refused (politely). The Book Hive didn’t respond at all. I don’t hold it against them (much).

The Grosvenor Fish Bar on the corner of Pottergate and Lower Goat Lane offers delicious, artery-hardening deep-fried heart attacks. It gets my vote because punters are welcome to finger the fish over a pint in the pub opposite. Personally, I prefer to nibble on a battered sausage (cue Liam). The public house in question, The Birdcage, has been the scene of our undoing many times now.

Fish Bar and Pub

I doubt Meryl Streep ever visited this corner of the Dark Continent when she was attempting a truly terrible Viking accent in ‘Out of Africa.’  Do they really sell slices of crocodile, ostrich, springbok and zebra? Well, if Tesco’s can flog donkey burgers, why not?

Liam spends endless hours thumbing through the sheet music in this old-school music shop as he contemplates a profitable sideline teaching piano. He’s quite talented with his fingers, my Liam. This little gem is right along the street from our weaver’s cottage.

St George's Music Shop

Finally, my personal favourite – not because I’m a cock in a frock at weekends and call myself Jacky but because Pepperberry’s sell ‘clothes designed with your boobs in mind.’  It’s just as well, as I have noticed that quite a few Norfolk broads do look like they’ve eaten all the pies.


Preserved in Aspic

Mission accomplished on the flat front, we said our temporary goodbyes to old Norwich Town and ventured back to London. Norwich has remained a bit off the beaten track since it’s not connected to the motorway network; it’s an hour’s drive along single and dual carriageways until the roar of the M11 is reached. This gave us the opportunity to take in a full English at a Little Chef. I suspect this traditional chain of roadside eateries is destined to die. Just like the Bates Motel in Psycho, Little Chefs are in the wrong place and, these days, weight-rich, time-poor Brits prefer a processed cheese burger to go. It’s a crying shame.

One the way to Liam’s folks, we couldn’t resist a minor detour to our old home in Walthamstow. We pulled up outside. It was as if we had never left. Four years down the line and the pretty little Victoria terrace hadn’t changed a bit. There was the heavy red Thirties door with feature Art Décor stain glass window, the twisted wisteria dripping from the bay window and the neatly trimmed chest-height box hedge. Even the original sash windows were still dressed in the same wooden Venetian blinds we’d left behind. It was like uncovering a time capsule; our old life had been preserved in aspic. We smiled at each other but didn’t linger. It doesn’t do to go back.

Supermarket Sweep

Liam and I took the dolly to Gümüslük, the pretty picture postcard bay with overpriced fish restaurants and tedious hassle from the press-ganging waiters. We were visiting friends who lived in the village. As we travelled along the pot-holed road, I was wondering what the scenery was like before the mad march of little white boxes up hill and down dale. Stunning I imagine. It’s still pretty in parts and the views from the coast road are dazzling. We turned a coastal corner and happened upon a huge supermarket that wasn’t there before. It’s a sign of the times. I see the advantage. Residents and holidaymakers alike no longer have to endure the sweaty trek into Yalıkavak or Turgutreis to stock up on booze and larder essentials. Who wants to do that in 40 degree heat? Sadly, I fear for the living of the little man in the local shop. Times are hard and, in the winter months, times are impossible. We all know the tale of the big boys who muscle in and soak up all the trade. It’s a sad story that’s oft repeated in high streets across Blighty. Still, this particular supermarket does have the most spectacular view of the Aegean from the rooftop terrace. Sütlü Americano, lütfen.

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The Horn Chorus

Turks are impatient motorists. Their ambling deportment on foot is transformed into Formula 1 wannabes as soon they get behind the wheel. Sometimes the narrow lane in front of our house is grid locked. This might be because a delivery truck is blocking the road by doing what delivery trucks do or simply due to the sheer volume of traffic trying to cut across town on market days. Crazy moped drivers weave dangerously through the static traffic and overheating drivers play the horn chorus. We watch the melee from the safety of our balcony. It can be quirky and comical, boisterous and baffling but rarely bothersome. However, we have witnessed two memorable hot-headed conflagrations, the first aided by a baseball bat and the second resulting in a violent push, a blow to the head and a few minutes on the ground unconscious. Still, I suppose it’s small beer compared to an average Saturday night in Croydon Centrum. To think that Alexander the Great, the most famous of ancient queens, marched along this very thoroughfare to claim old Halicarnassus (Bodrum that was) as his own before beating up the Persians and conquering half the known world. Get the madam!

Check out the book

But for the Grace of God…

We were shocked and saddened to hear of the fatal car crash on the Torba Road that killed Engin, the chef from Koşede Restaurant in Yalıkavak and seriously injured his wife and child. We used to eat in the restaurant from time to time. We were only on nodding terms with Engin but know Emra, the front of house, a little better. The scale of the tragedy hit the news. The article in the Bodrum View is in Turkish but hardly needs to be. The pain on Emra’s face says it all. It brings back horrible memories of our own near death experience on the same road. I’m not religious in the slightest but think at these times but for the grace of God go all of us.

Wacky Races

Clement invited us and Karen to inspect his new country pile. Charlotte, Alan and Charlotte’s mother, Lucia, were also asked along. They knew the way so we decided to follow them in their car. We took the Torba Road, one of the most perilous on the peninsula. It had been raining earlier in the day and the pot-holed, uncambered road was liberally puddled. As we approached a tight bend a coach conveying early bird tourists careered towards us. Liam slammed on the breaks. The car skated uncontrollably towards the coach, bounced off the side and performed a pirouette the great Margot Fontaine would have been proud of. Miraculously, the car came to rest neatly at the side of the road. Shaken but not stirred, Liam looked around to see which of his petrified charges had snuffed it. It was a relief that we were all still in the land of the living but my lower half had moistened uncontrollably.

Charlotte and Alan realised that we were no longing tailing them and returned to find us. They parked up on the opposite side of the road and crossed over to our car leaving Lucia in the front passenger seat. Within minutes, like a set piece from ‘Casualty’, a car sped around the same bend, skidded on the same oily wet patch and hurtled towards Lucia. The car ricocheted off the driver’s door and crashed into the ditched verge. Liam fretted that the driver had not survived the impact and ran to the rescue. Others ran towards Lucia fearing the worst. The ditched man climbed unscathed and smiling from his battered Fiat. It seemed he rather enjoyed the theatre of it all. Before we knew it we were all up to our ankles in mud attempting to haul his sorry wreck back onto the road. Lucia was extracted unharmed, a little shaken but otherwise in fine fettle. As the fiasco unfolded more cars joined the elaborate ice dance, skids and near misses piling up like a scene from ‘Wacky Races’. Fearful that she might join the casualty count Karen sensibly disappeared into the woods for safety. Lucia joined her.

The damage to both our cars was astonishingly slight and the matter was glossed over with the coach driver in a typically Turkish way – a nod, a wink, a half-hearted exchange of details and rounded off with a hearty handshake. Needless to say, we didn’t make it to Clement’s that day.

Hello Dolly

Hop Aboard

We are finding local people to be warm, welcoming and obliging. We’re having fun riding around by dolmuş (or dollies as we call them) though it’s taken us a while to get used to dolly drivers collecting fares and dispensing change as they drive at speed along the highway, swerving to avoid pot holes and untethered cattle. Kindly strangers occasionally stop to offer us a lift, including a sweet little old lady with impeccable English, who pulled over in her beaten up Beetle and gave us a ride into town. She seemed unperturbed at inviting two strangers into her car. Perhaps this is because Turkey is blessed with a low crime rate when compared to the West and, therefore, the associated fear of it is also blessedly absent.

By comparison, Clement fled England because his fear of crime had reached hysterical levels. He’d become terrified to venture out after dark, lest he might be mugged by the drug addicts and beggars who loitered menacingly at every corner. He considered himself lucky to have survived the ordeal. We listened sympathetically and enquired where he had lived thinking it might have been Moss Side or Brixton. ‘Dorchester,’ he replied.