Hardly a week goes by without being told that this is bad for you, that is good for you, what used to be good for you is now bad for you, eat more of this, eat less of that, blah, blah, blah. What’s a boy to do? We’ve already abandoned terribly important jobs with responsibility and status (or so we thought) and we’ve jettisoned the Gü Puds. Jobs and puds were the instruments of our undoing. On the minus side we’ve developed a unhealthy weakness for strong liquor and failed miserably to pack in the fags. The cigarette variety, obviously; hell will freeze over before I give up the other brand. Yet despite our various vices, Liam and I have lost weight, feel infinitely less stressed and our blood pressure has dropped. In Liam’s case, it’s so low that I keep a vanity mirror by the bedside to check for breathing in the morning.
I’m not promoting an entirely degenerate existence but ponder this:
This woman is 51. She is a TV health guru advocating a holistic approach to nutrition and health. She promotes exercise and a vegetarian diet high in organic fruit and fresh vegetables. She recommends detox, colonic irrigation and multiple supplements. She advocates regular faecal examination like some kind of scat fetishist. She’s painfully thin and looks ill, even in makeup. It’s enough to make you anally retentive.
This woman is 51. She is a TV cook who eats nothing but meat, butter and lots of desserts, all washed down with top-brand vodka, single malt scotch and a bottle of good wine every day. She’s voluptuous, sexy and licks a spoon like a porn star.
Not to be outdone in the cosmetic surgery stakes, I decided to purchase a brand new set of Turkish gnashers courtesy of a delicious dentist in Yalıkavak with broad shoulders and all the right equipment. He ground my teeth down to resemble Chucky leaving the treatment room door ajar to let squeamish, dental-phobic Liam witness the bloody transformation in horror. He felt my pain more than I did. For a third of the Blighty price my tired old fag stained molars that were being slowly dissolved by alcohol were replaced by a fine selection of Omo-white crowns. I now dazzle with a Hollywood smile like a guinea pig from Ten Years Younger and Liam can see me coming in the dark. I asked my dentist how long my new teeth will last. ‘Longer than you,’ he wryly replied.
Prior to our exodus, my GP was concerned about the slow but inexorable rise in my blood pressure. He regularly, and rightly, gave me the standard lecture about diet, smoking and drinking to defer the time when prescription drugs will be needed to control it. As a precaution, I invested in an electronic monitor from Boots and check the reading every week or so. Soon after our emigration my blood pressure reverted to normal and has stubbornly stayed there ever since, despite my continued dependence on booze and fags. This is further proof that work isn’t good for my health. I occasionally check Liam’s pressure. It is so low that, technically, he is clinically dead and I’ve been sleeping with a corpse for months. I could prop him up in a village bar and no one would really notice. Most nights Yalıkavak resembles a scene from The Night of the Living Dead anyway.
We flew home on the emigrey express. To our fore was a banquet of bleached, bottle-blonds whose tinted tresses disguised a sea of solar haggard, sour facades. Obviously a peroxide barnet is a VOMIT prerequisite.
To the aft lay a sallow, loud-mouthed, drunken imitation of Archie Moon cuddling an empty bottle of Bells. He’d spent his time in the departure lounge downing the duty free and popping frequently to the tuvalet for an illicit fag. He dozed through most of the flight but awoke ten minutes before touchdown and casually lit a cigarette which was rapidly dispatched by the horrified staff. Meanwhile, Liam munched his way through two packets of chewy caramel, soft nougat and crispy chocolate balls that cost more than the airfare. We landed just before Gatwick was closed for the winter.
Blighty life pal, Karen, is housing us during our trip to the mother country, storing us in her delux en-suite loft. She is blessed with a wonderful home – chic and bohemian at the same time. She is a classy, off the wall lady of taste, charm and substance and fancies herself as a Mrs Madrigal type. The cap really fits. Karen’s husband, Peter, died of cancer a couple of years ago. His decline had been indecently swift, and she is slowly emerging from the disabling pain of grief: a hard slog that I know only too well.
It was a breezy but sunny afternoon. We decided to take advantage of the benign climate and sink a sherry or two in Yalıkavak. We sat at a sheltered table outside a restaurant and ordered a couple of Efes’ (the ubiquitous Turkish brew). Sitting at an adjacent table was a small clutch of emigreys; one woman and two men. The woman was a skeletal, severe looking creature with angular face, beady eyes, austere short cut home-highlighted hair and a shrill voice. As she held court, her emasculated companions attended her silently, nodding in submissive deference as required. She complained stridently of all things Turkish. iam innocently lit a cigarette, provoking her immediate high octave wrath.
“I can’t believe” she screeched ‘how people can smoke while I am eating. How disgusting. It should not be allowed!’
We had hoped that we’d left sanctimonious anti-smoking fascists behind when we migrated. Alas not. We tolerated her invective for a few moments but when Liam could bear it no longer, he coolly but firmly asserted
‘Excuse me. Would you mind not bitching behind my back. If you have anything to say, please say it to my face.’
Clearly, a woman unused to such a direct challenge from anyone, she stuttered out her request lamely.
‘Fine,’ he replied.
Once she had finished her meal, he lit up again and chain smoked. The contest of wills that followed descended into an undeclared war of attrition to see who would leave first. We ordered a second drink, then a third. Finally, she conceded defeat and departed with one of her companions following meekly behind. As the clicking of her witches heels faded into the distance, her liberated second companion sank into his chair and lit a long-awaited cigarette.
Turkey is an unlikely place to introduce a smoking ban. Nicotine consumption is an obligatory male pastime, along with rakı drinking and parlour games. Since most Turks appear to have a distinctly cavalier attitude towards petty authority, I assumed the new rules, as with parking regulations, would be roundly flouted. To my surprise, it has caught on; rigorous enforcement by the jandarma and instant fines for miscreants have both provided added incentives. It hardly matters. Life is very al fresco and popping out for a fag is a breeze compared to huddling outside a London pub in the drizzle heckled by tut-tutting passing strangers.