We’re hoping to start our East Anglian adventure in a brand spanking new city-centre designer pad with a high spec and low bills: a six month probation while we try the city on for size.
Ancient Norwic is a young person’s university city with a vibrant crowd and a thriving arts scene; these old nags aren’t quite ready for the knacker’s yard just yet. I’ve chucked my old floppy slippers in the bin. Now they were knackered. Ironically, I bought my first ever pair of slippers in the Bodrum branch of Marks and Sparks, a soft shoe shuffle designed to keep my little tootsies warm during the challenging Bodrum winters.
We’ve been struggling to become a fag-free family, frequently falling off the wagon, usually after a session on the sauce. This time, things will be different. We’re determined to kick the filthy habit (famous last words, I hear you mutter at the back). The £8 a packet price tag would drive us into the greasy hands of Blighty loan sharks. Yes, my friends, times have changed. They’ll be no pipe and slippers for us in our new gaff.
My father died when he was 50. My mother has been single ever since. In fact, she’s been a widow for much longer than she was a wife. She calls herself ‘the only virgin in London’. She says this without the slightest hint of bitterness or irony. My mother is now 83 and still runs for buses. She’s been to Bodrum just the once, for my surprise 50th birthday party. She loved it and spent her time chain smoking and solving puzzles. ‘Keeps my brain active,’ she says. She has five children, eleven grandchildren and three great grandchildren. She loves us all even when we’re not that loveable. Liam calls his mother-in-law ‘One hell of a woman.’ You can say that again.
Liam and I spend most of our festive time in Blighty apart. It is our habit. He dispenses TLC to his folks while I tour the Capital like Elizabeth the First dumping myself on various friends and family. Two experiences stick in my mind.
I joined Liam at his folks for a couple of nights and helped with the festive shopping. Picture it – Tesco’s, Christmas Eve, 2011. A cast of thousands weaving over-laden shopping trolleys through the heaving aisles like bad-tempered dodgem drivers. Their faces gave the game away – London during the Blitz. The frayed staff wore festive plumage and forced smiles, praying to the Baby Jesus for closing time. It was as merry as Christmas Day at the Queen Vic.
We shuffled our way along the mile-long till queue, manoeuvred the unfamiliar hire car out of the bumper-to-bumper car park and snaked back to the house, emptied of festive joy. After we packed away the calorific goodies, I stepped outside the front door for a cheeky cigarette. I spotted a corpulent covered lady in Horn of Africa robes wander down the road towards me. A young boy skipped along at her side singing Jingle Bells. She smiled as she passed. That simple, single act of cheer recharged my yuletide spirit. I stepped back inside to recharge it further, courtesy of my father-in-law’s bottle of Jameson’s.
We were wandering down Bodrum’s bar street, a procession of cheap and cheerful bars and hassle shops. We normally rush by; casual shopping in Turkey can be a bruising experience best only tried by the foolish or heroic. On this occasion, Liam popped into a corner shop to buy some cigarettes. Keen to use the local lingo, he asked for them in passable Turkish. The po-faced assistant looked at him blankly. Liam repeated the request. Another blank look. After a brief standoff, Liam relented and repeated the order in English. The surly man behind the counter viritually threw the cigarettes at Liam, snatched the payment and slammed the change on the counter. Welcome to Turkey where hospitality greets you at every corner. I know there are arses-holes in every country but next time we’ll just shout loudly in English.
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.