English weather at its worst is a depressing and insipid affair – no drama or performance, just days of persistent damp greyness. A few weeks of low-lying gloom were brightened by a warm front of visitors to the Norwich micro-loft. The high pressure pushed the clouds aside, to leave the flatlands basking in sunshine. First up were vintage friend, Clive and his partner, Angus. The generous day trippers brought booty : a ‘corkcicle,’ a nifty little ice fairy’s wand that magically chills wine in an instant, and a fabulous hand-thrown bowl that Clive lifted from the souks of Marrakesh. From the practical to the decorative; they know us so well. We lunched in Wild Thyme, a vegetarian restaurant with a Dickensian address you couldn’t make up if your tried – The Old Fire Station Stables, Labour in Vain Yard – and bread and butter pudding to die for.
A few days later came Karen, our very own Mrs Madrigal, who, during our Turkey years, stored us in her en-suite loft on our trips back to the motherland. It was a significant birthday for her (discretion prevents me from revealing which) so we dined at the opulent Assembly House, one of the most gorgeous examples of Georgian architecture anywhere.
Spending a penny found us accidentally caught up on a film set with the cast and crew milling around waiting for the cameras to roll. As I emerged from the gents, a familiar face flashed past wrapped in a white towelling robe. A little digging later revealed that we’d stumbled upon the making of ’45 Years,’ a film starring Tom Courtney and Charlotte Rampling. It was the ravishing Miss Rampling, the classy lead of many a Seventies’ film noir who I’d seen rushing to her close up. Men over fifty will remember that, unlike page three stunnas, Charlotte got her baps out for her art and not for their titillation (or so it was claimed).
After dinner, it was back to the loft for a little more fizz and a lot more gossip. At the end of the evening, we poured Karen into a cab which conveyed her to the Maid’s Head Hotel, reputedly the oldest in England. Next day, Karen’s verdict was that, unlike the well preserved Miss Rampling, the depressing old pile is in dire need of a facelift. Time to call in the Hotel Inspector?
What is it with British plumbing? I’ve never lived anywhere in Blighty with good enough water pressure to provide a decent douche. Don’t you just loathe a limp spray? Norwich is no different. Okay, the house is 370 years but that’s no excuse in this day and age. I’m old too, but my own water works do a decent enough job. My little winkle sprinkles with much more umph. I’m feeling nostalgic for our fireman’s hose of a spray in Bodrum. It was strong enough to pin an unsuspecting nude to the tiles. Mind you, that was only when the water was actually on. For the dry shifts, we kept a bucket by the basin for a quick whore’s wipe. My one consolation is that, come the mould season, we won’t have viral spores breeding across the bathroom ceiling like a medieval plague.
Our wimpy water works also extended to the porcelain. The lacklustre flush was barely enough to deal with even the most modest log. Emergency assistance was delivered by engineer Maurice who parachuted in from the Smoke for the weekend. His talented hands fiddled with my ballcock and, hey presto, Niagara Falls. His labours were rewarded with a large glass of white, followed by several more (but that’s another story).
No journey through Asia Minor is complete without a tumbling tour of the ancient wonder that is Ephesus: world heritage site nominee and arguably one of the most impressive open air museums anywhere. Ephesus (or ‘Efes’ to give the place its Turkish name which also happens to be the name of Turkey’s favourite ale), was one of the most sophisticated cities of antiquity, adorned with grand civic buildings, marble-clad pavements and street lighting.
Emiköy Alan, who as a hunky young rookie snatched the Queen’s shilling but found it to be debased, lives with the missus in a traditional Turkish village near Dalyan. Alan writes affectionately of their lives as rustic emigreys in his blog Archers of Okçular. He often leaves witty (so he thinks) comments on my posts. In fact, he’s my number one pundit. It gives him a little pleasure between the frequent power cuts they endure in the wilderness.
Alan recently published a post about the evolution of Turkish privies from low slung to high tech. To be mildly obsessed with evacuation is a peculiarly British pre-occupation. It’s our Dunkirk spirit. Alan reminds us of the all-in-one dump and rinse pans that are now common in this part of the world. The in-pan bidet accessory is a novel concept. Don’t attempt it in winter, though. The icy rush could cause a seizure in those with a weak constitution. When I first tried it, the water pressure was so high that the jet shot between my legs and hit the wall opposite. These days I prefer to use a pack of wet wipes to maintain a fragrant ring.
The drains in our new lodgings are a bit of problem. We took a well-deserved break from home making to watch back to back episodes of Downton Abbey. Midway through a deliciously haughty Maggie Smith monologue we turned to each other thinking the other had broken wind, the silent but deadly variety. Obviously, something very unpleasant had drifted across the room. I entered the bathroom to investigate and nearly fainted at the stench. Just as well Liam was on hand with the brandy to revive me. Mercifully, a few gallons of water liberally dosed with bleach soon cured the offending aroma.
Regrettably, rancid drains are the price we pay for living in paradise. During the hot, dry summers there’s just not enough pressure to push the shite through the pipe and back waft is all too common. That it has happened so early in the year is a tad worrying.
I was acquainted with a squat toilet from a very early age. As an army brat I lived some of my childhood in Malaysia and our house came with an extension for the Chinese maid. We weren’t posh, Dad was a regimental sergeant major, and every family had a maid courtesy of Her Majesty, even lowly squaddies. It was time before the rise of the Asian Tigers and the reawakening of the Middle Kingdom when Britain still had a blue water fleet. The maid’s quarters were equipped with a squat toilet whereas our family convenience was of the pedestal variety. She used her facility and we used ours. ‘East is east and west is west and never the twain shall meet’ as Rudyard Kipling wrote.
We were wandering through Gümüslük Bay, a beguiling little harbour set among the meagre ruins of ancient Mindos. As a protected archaeological site, the bay has been saved from the relentless march of little white boxes that afflicts that part of the Bodrum peninsula. Unfortunately I got caught short. I darted into the public convenience for relief. I gazed in utter horror at the flush ceramic pan. Oh shit, how does it work? My mother trained me to sit not to squat. How do I hover precariously over the hole with my drawers round my ankles without tipping over? I gingerly and carefully pulled my jeans and Calvins over my trainers, first one leg then the other, contorting my body to avoid contact with the wet floor. I almost fell onto my backside in a vain attempt to maintain my dignity. It was like a game of twister but with only one player. The moral of the story? Go before you leave.
According to Wikipedia an alternative name for a squat WC is an Alaturca from the Italian Alla Turca – as the Turks do. Fancy that!
Our hotel is equidistant between the city centre proper and a trendy, Sohoesque district called Alsancak. No one would describe Izmir as beautiful. Much of it was burned to the ground in 1922 during the Greco-Turkish War, and the city was unsympathically rebuilt with block upon block of mediocre concrete box architecture that surely wouldn’t withstand even the slightest tremor. However, the place does have a certain appeal and Alsancak, in particular, has a real buzz, all trendy shops and pavement cafés.
We decided on a trip to the Roman agora, the largest market place ever excavated from the period. We strolled through the modern pazar and delighted in confounding the catcalling hawkers by responding in German, French, Spanish, and a little Turkish, anything but English. We found the agora remains on the wrong side of the tracks and gazed through the railings. Having been spoilt by the glory of Ephesus, I’m afraid an enormous hole on the ground with a few old stones randomly scattered about looking like London after the Blitz really didn’t impress. We didn’t bother going in.
Alsancak is where the few gay bars are to be found. We had done our internet research and went in pursuit of the twilight world of Turkish deviants. It was hopeless. We found only one dismal little bar down some dark alley. It was a tawdry, dirty dive, virtually empty and pounded by deafening techno. The drinks were absurdly expensive and even the ‘free’ bar snacks came at a price with a specially prepared bill. The bar staff were so bored they poured alcohol on the bar and set it alight for a laugh. Taking a leak was a surreal experience as the entrance to the toilet was guarded by a head-scarfed granny in pantaloons demanding a lira to spend a penny. The few punters were rough rent boys in cheap shell suits looking for punters of their own. As they began to circle us like a pack of hyenas, we knew it was time to leave. We sprinted to the entrance fully expecting it to be locked. Thankfully, it wasn’t. That was Izmir.