My irreverent, irrelevant ramblings reached the grand old age of 10 in October last year. It passed by without notice. Blog years are like dog years so all things being equal, Perking the Pansies should have been sent to the knacker’s yard yonks ago. The fact that the pansies continue to thrive is a testament to those who still take the time to pass by after all these years. It makes this old nag very happy. How long will it continue? Dunno.
But what is certain is that the book that emerged from the early days of the blog changed everything and took Liam and me in an entirely different and totally unexpected direction. And that book – Perking the Pansies, Jack and Liam Move to Turkey – reaches its own 10th anniversary next month, and that hasn’t passed me by. The fact that after a decade it still sells at all is a minor miracle and rather humbling. I thank you.
“A bitter-sweet tragi-comedy that recalls the first year of a British gay couple living in a Muslim land. Just imagine the absurdity of two openly gay, recently married middle aged, middle class men escaping the liberal sanctuary of anonymous London to relocate to a Muslim country. Jack and Liam, fed up with kiss-my-arse bosses and nose-to-nipple commutes, chuck in the towel and move to a small town in Turkey. Join the culture-curious gay couple on their bumpy rite of passage.”
The world may be going to Hell in a handcart but the Pansies keep on blooming – year in, year out. I keep them fed and watered and I’m grateful to those who pass by to admire the display. As the New Year dawns and more dark clouds lurk on the horizon, it’s a good time to look back at the pansies that perked the most in 2018. Life is a Cabaret, Old Chum, romped home by a mile. Who knew a drag show in a circus tent could strike such a chord?
As for the also-rans, it’s the usual eclectic bunch – as befits my random rants and ramblings from daily life: cowboys, cross-dressers, the curse of modern parlance, movie misses, gym bunnies, Hellenic heaven, and stories old and new from the Land of the Sunrise.
This is the second article originally published at On the Ege Magazine back in the day. I’ve rescued it from the bin to re-post for posterity. Why? Because I can.
Old Money, No Money
We were summoned by a Turkish neighbour for moonlit drinks. Her name is Sophia, a slightly batty older lady who speaks fluent English with a cut glass accent. Sophia has been threatening us with an invitation for weeks by rapping on our window, poking her hand through the grille and startling our visitors. Our immediate neighbours, Vadim and Beril, were also invited so we all scurried along Sentry Lane together. We approached an ornate set of heavy double-doors and rang the bell. Sophia flung open the doors to reveal a gorgeous candlelit courtyard bursting with a copse of mature fruit trees – avocado, pomegranate and lemon – laid out before a pretty, whitewashed old Bodrum house. Liam was immediately drawn to a candlelit niche in the stone wall, partially hidden by the thicket. The recess contained a small statuette of Our Lady, a replica of the original from Meryemana (the house of the Virgin Mary, near Ephesus). Liam resisted the knee-jerk urge to genuflect.
As a foreign student in the sixties, pedigree’d Sophia had acquired her regal inflection at the Royal Society of Dramatic Art. Her career in the arts was cut short by marriage to a Turkish diplomat whom she loved intensely; she travelled the world as the ambassador’s wife until his premature death a decade ago. She still grieves him, but that doesn’t stop her flirting outrageously with Vadim. His protests that he’s a one-woman man get a sceptical response from Sophia. In her experience, it’s perfectly normal for Turkish men to have a harem of women on the go at any one time, a modern twist on the old Muslim custom of taking more than one wife.
Drinks were plentiful and complemented by bountiful mezes freshly prepared by Sophia’s faithful old head-scarfed retainer she calls ‘my Kurdish woman.’ We were serenaded by Vivaldi and classic crooners – while the hired help fell to her knees and prayed with gusto next to the stereo, disregarding completely the irreverent chatter emanating from the terrace. This bizarre spectacle illustrated, as nothing else could, the polar extremes of Turkish society.
As Dean Martin’s honey tones dribbled from the speakers, Sophia pulled me from my seat for a slow smooch around the terrace.
Although she tended to dominate the conversation (in both English and Turkish), Sophia was a gracious host and the evening was a civilised, bi-lingual diversion. Sophia is old money through and through. She seems taken by us though; we’re completely baffled what ‘old money’ sees in ‘no money’.
I never had the pleasure of meeting you Özgecan. I never had the chance to hear you laugh with your friends or sing along to your favorite tune. No I did not know you at all but I know you now. Your name will forever be etched into my heart and into the hearts of millions of others here in Turkey and around the world who woke on Valentine’s Day, the day of romance, to the sickening news of your death at the hands of a monster. We are shocked beyond words hearing of your suffering and of knowing that the simple task of stepping on a bus is no longer safe here in Mersin.
What happened to you happens to other women every day, all over the world. Whether it is in New Delhi or Melbourne monsters can be found everywhere. But with your death comes the news that tens of thousands…
Albert John Cooper the third was born to Albert and Alice Cooper of 48 William Street, Norwich on the 16th of June 1933. Like all new born babies for those first few moments in his new world he started turning blue, until rushes of air cleared Albert’s throat for the first time in many, however, the blues had remained.
So began the long and eventful life of Albert Cooper, Norwich’s very own Man in Black who’s been singing the blues since 1942. Albert lives below us in the old Co-op warehouse. He’s a Norwich original with a tale or ten to tell, is still gigging at the age of 81 and remains in fine voice. Long may he continue.
Norwich has a rich musical heritage to suit all tastes from high brow to arty-farty, symphonic to solo, electric to unplugged and everything in between. Albert is a wonderful part of this tradition and if you happen to be in town tomorrow evening, pop along to the Rumsey Wells Pub in St Andrews Street to catch the local legend and his blues and boogie band.
Down the years, we’ve been remarkably blessed with engaging, generous, fascinating and wacky neighbours. Until recently we shared a Weaver’s Cottage with the modest and unassuming Anjali Joseph who has written two internationally acclaimed novels and lectured in English Literature at the Sorbonne. And there was dear old Colin with his signature horn-rimmed glasses who bought my house and all its contents in Walthamstow, lock, stock and barrel. His kindness eased our passage to paradise and when we got there, we found ourselves sharing a garden with Beril and Vadim…
…a maverick and unwed Turkish couple who had escaped the conformity of Ankara to take possession of Stone House No. 1 and join us in the garden of sin. Vadim was a retired rock and roller, a portly, rosy-cheeked percussionist in his late fifties, obsessed with drums and wedded to his collection of Turkish darbukas. Beril was a good decade younger than her rhythm and blues man and bore more than a passing resemblance to Kate Bush in her Home Counties years. She tolerated Vadim’s banging with good grace but preferred the gloomy Gallic romanticism of Charles Aznavour to the guitar riffs of Eric Clapton.