My Letter to Özgecan

Maybe, just maybe, something positive will emerge from this.

janeyinmersin

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.

Aslan

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…

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Neighbourly Relations

Albert Cooper

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.

From Albert Cooper, A Chronicle of Norwich’s King of the Blues

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.

Orford_Cellar_2Norwich 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…

Turkey Street…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.

From Turkey Street, Jack and Liam move to Bodrum, Chapter One

London Turks

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.

Fancy a Dip?

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.

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Black Gold

Bodrum Belles

Bodrum Reborn

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.

Yum!

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Black Gold

Our precious olive crop is bursting to be harvested. A huge, ancient double-trunked tree is the central exhibit in our shared garden and is dripping with heavy fruit like black baubles on a Christmas Fir. Olives have been dropping haphazardly for weeks, exploding over the patio and staining the paths. Our neighbours, Beril and Vadim have been collecting the debris, presumably for preparation and processing. I looked up the method online. It seems like a right faff to me. Our olives come in handy little jars from the supermarket. I intend to keep it that way.

A second olive tree from a neighbouring house overhangs our single storey kitchen. We were rudely awoken this morning by a heavy, thick-set covered lady in clashing florals and crocheted twinset (no pearls) who had climbed on top of the kitchen roof to beat the bounty out of the heavily laden tree. Olives rained down and danced around the tiles for a couple of hours. She went at it with great gusto, grunting like an East German shot putter until the entire crop had surrendered to her considerable force. I won’t be messing with her.

Mete’s World

Book Tour Intermission

We know a young Turkish man called Mete. He’s at university studying hard to make something of himself. He’s also gay. He’s not riddled with guilt. He’s resolutely out and comfortable in his own skin. He’s one of the new breed of young modern Turks demanding to live and breathe free. It won’t be easy.

People ask me why I don’t write more of the plight of LGBT people in my foster land on my blog and why my book isn’t about the struggle for sexual equality. Actually, I have touched on this in both, but neither the blog nor the book is intended to be a political or social polemic. Maybe my next project will be more radical. People who know me know I have a lot to say. It saddens me that if I do, I will have to do it from a safe distance.

I greatly admire Mete. He reminds me of a young Jack. Blighty the Seventies wasn’t so different from Turkey in 2012. Be brave Mete and stay safe.

Take a look at Mete’s World.

And check out the book.