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.
While looking for a new gaff to lay our hats we boxed and coxed with trunks in tow. Some of our time was spent with Liam’s folks in Edmonton, North London. The area has a strange familiarity, and not for the obvious reasons. As a world city, London is used to migration and transience. London is what it is because of it. Centuries of settlement and resettlement have reinvented and re-invigorated the city in an endless cycle of renewal. This constant shift in the cultural cityscape is not without its challenges but it is always enriching.
Forty years ago Edmonton was host to a thriving Irish community. Catholicism, the craic and the tricolour dominated the local scene. Forty years on, next generation Irish have moved up and out leaving a rump of the old who are slowly dying off. Nature abhors a vacuum; as the Irish up sticks to greener pastures, Turks fill the spaces in between. Of course, Turkish people are no strangers to London. The colonial connection to Cyprus established Turkish and Greek communities, now decades old. The partition of Aphrodite’s troubled isle following the 1974 Turkish invasion helped to bolster numbers on both sides of the Cypriot divide. Ironically, both communities live cheek-by-jowl in a way that is no longer possible on Cyprus itself. They don’t exactly mix but neither do they growl at each other from opposite sides of a thin blue line. When I lived in Walthamstow, my local convenience store was run by Turks and my greying hair was clipped by the Greek barber next door. I wisely avoided the Cypriot question while Stavros wielded a cut-throat razor.
Back in Edmonton, the ethnic influx is of a different kind. Recent immigrants tend to hail from Turkey itself rather than Cyprus. This has introduced a more traditional feel to the area. Grubby old pubs that were dying on their feet have been turned into colourful restaurants and locked-up shops have been given a new lease of life as tea houses. There’s even a branch of Doğtaş – a well-known (and horribly gaudy) Turkish home furnishings chain – in the local shopping centre. It’s all brought a new vibrancy to the vicinity. Unfortunately, as well as a fresh new Anatolian look, the Turks have also imported their truly terrible driving habits. Lollipop ladies leap for their lives.
The benign spring weather allowed us to take tea and tittle tattle on our balcony with a few Bodrum Belles. It’s a sunny spot, though we often have to yell above the din of the harried street. This is more than compensated by the chance to observe busy Bodrum life passing by below. I was being mother and, as I poured the coffee, I gazed momentary across at the flat roof of our single storey kitchen at the other end of the courtyard. It glistened in the bright sunlight. Tiny waves rippled in the gentle breeze. Had we installed a roof-top plunge pool? No such luck. A few weeks earlier, a beefy covered lady with Popeye biceps and sprouting underarms had collected the olive crop from the over-hanging tree. She had beat the bush with Amazonian gusto and left a shag-pile of twiggy debris in her wake. Come the next deluge, the leaf litter plugged the drainage hole and created the shallow lake.
After the Belles departed, I climbed onto the roof, waded through the water and unblocked the hole with the handle of a wooden spatula. The undammed waters spewed like a mini Niagara onto the turned dirt of our neighbour’s bald vegetable patch. Their chained up dog, so used to barking at the slightest flutter of the tiniest sparrow, was taken totally by surprise. Rover didn’t know how to react so decided not to react at all. Now there’s a first.
Barring a few meteorological mishaps and last-minute mayhem from Mother Nature, I think spring has sprung. We’re not leaving until the summer, so we intend to make the most of what we have left. We’ve washed down the patio furniture and shampooed the cushions, wiped the windows and showered the courtyard. Patio doors have been flung open to freshen the musk and murder the mould. We were regaled by the call to prayer at full volume and the first row of the season between our Turkish neighbours. It was a corker of a commotion with Beril’s throat at full throttle. Welcome to Bodrum reborn.
I’ve suffered a premature exclamation. Since I wrote this we’ve had that meteorological mishap. An instant cold snap has slapped us about the face like an icy flannel. We lunched with the Belles today at a modest promenade eaterie. Over the pide (Turkish pizza), Jessica gazed up at the uniform blanket of light grey and remarked ‘I think it’ll snow today.’ And lo and behold, it did. It was just a weak little flurry of flakes and was over in a jiffy, but it was a bona fide blizzard. Our first and probably our last.