A sunny spring day saw us on the top floor of a double decker cruising cross-country past gilded fields of rapeseed. We were on our way to Loddon, a picture postcard market town of 2,500 souls, ten miles outside Norwich at the headwaters of the Norfolk Broads on the River Chet. We had a taste for a speciality brew and a clotted cream fancy in the Vintage Tea Rooms at the Eighteenth Century Mill, quite the thing to do in these parts. Neat and tidy Loddon is stuffed with quaint little Georgian and Victorian buildings lining its gently winding high street and is dominated by the fifteenth century Holy Trinity Church set in a sea of tombstones. The town also features the smallest fire station I’ve ever seen with room for just a single truck and no fireman’s pole to slide down.
We made it to the Vintage Tea Rooms, only to find it locked up with the following message:
“Closed for 2014”
We got the bus back to Norwich and went to the pub instead. Every cloud…
For a glorious tail-end to summer, the flip flops were dusted down and the shorts were washed out for a final flourish and a sunny bite with my publisher Jo Parfitt, the tour de force who is Summertime Publishing. Jo was passing through the county, visiting her folks before she sets sail on her latest expat expedition, this time to Malaysia. Jo treated us to a gastro-pub lunch at the Orange Tree in Thornham, on the north Norfolk coast. It was an unmissable chance to cruise through the bread basket of England during harvest time while it’s still above sea level. Thornham is a picture-postcard hamlet dripping with money, converted barns and upmarket holiday lets, the kind of place featured on those minor-channel relocation programmes like ‘Escape to the Country.’ Liam loves to watch these shows but since we don’t quite have half a million stashed away in an off-shore piggy bank, watching is all we ever get to do. The pub grub was delicious and Jo was delightful, as were her splendid parents who popped along for a glass. While Jo is sipping Singapore Slings on her latest posting, she’s asked me to join her small cohort of trusted confidantes, a huge complement and a nice little earner. So, to Ms Parfitt, I thank you. To Summertime authors, if your Kindle file goes tits-up, on my head be it.
Quite a while ago I wrote the Expat Glossary to help describe the wide variety of expats we’ve encountered on our Turkish escapade. The glossary includes the pre-eminent expats I call vetpats. These are veterans who have been living in Turkey for many years, have picked up the lingo and are better informed and more integrated than many of their peers. Today, I’m adding a couple more categories to the expat lexicon, both of which are vetpats of a unique kind. Please give a warm hand to the:
The Belles are single ladies of a certain age with rollercoaster pasts and plucky presents. Some may once have been VOMITs but, unlike many of their sisters, they have learned from bitter experience and now live quiet and contented lives with a refreshing insight into their lot. To qualify as a Belle you must live in Bodrum Town. Anywhere else just doesn’t cut the mustard. Interestingly, we’ve yet to bump into any Bodrum Beaus. Middle-aged male singletons are thin on the ground round here. So, if you’re a solvent unattached straight man with your own teeth and working tackle, book your passage on the next emigrey express.
A rare breed of seasoned pioneers, Emiköys have forsaken the strife of city life and deodorant for the real köy mckoy and eek out a life less ordinary in genuine Turkish villages. They get down, dirty and dusty with the locals, contribute meaningfully to their small rural communities, keep chickens, get unnaturally close to nature and talk Turkish to the trees (well not always, but I’m sure some do).
The Expat Glossary has been duly updated. Any further suggestions gratefully received.
Bodrum is getting busier by the day as the town warms up with the weather. Works continues apace to complete the classy new streetscape before the summer rush. Contrary to my initial cynicism, a spacious new civic square is being laid out along the bar street rat run revealing a spectacular view of the crusader castle. It will be a place of sanctuary from the relentless hassle to come from the imported hawkers with their spring-loaded libidos. Whole villages in the East are being drained of their young men as they start their annual migration in search of casual employment and easy lays. We have a bird’s eye view of the caravan of young totty as they scamper past the house dragging their humble belongings behind them. The testosterone is palpable.
Charlotte and Alan fancied a day trip and invited us along for the ride. We decided on a pilgrimage to The Virgin Mary’s House (or Meryemana – Mother Mary, in Turkish), near Ephesus followed by excursion to nearby Şirence. We travelled the now familiar Izmir road arriving at Selçuk for a tasty and inexpensive pide lunch. Replenished, we ascended the mountains to Meryemana (or Mary-enema, as Alan calls it).
Completed in 1950 in neo-Byzantine style on 7th century foundations, Mary’s gaff is a cute, unassuming little bungalow, now a consecrated church but with the character of a shrine. It’s the centre piece of well-tended park overlooking a pretty wooded valley. We entered the house reverentially and gazed upon the small effigy of Our Lady. It felt contrived to me. I have little time for religion and give more credence to the tooth fairy. Outside in the courtyard Liam lit a candle as is required of a fallen Catholic.
There is scant biblical evidence that Jesus’ mum found her last resting place there (before her Assumption, of course). This hasn’t stopped the place becoming a side show on the bible tours circuit or various popes cashing in on the act with papal sponsorship. Naturally, there’s the obligatory tacky gift shop selling Chinese made plaster figurines and vials of holy water. Liam procured a small woodblock icon of the Madonna and child that is now proudly displayed on a shelf in the loo.
Onwards to Şirence, a small village perched high on the hills above Selçuk. Surrounded by vineyards and orchards set within a serene Italianate landscape, Şirence had been a Greek populated settlement until 1923. During the exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey the inhabitants were told to pack their bags and leave for Athens. After being left to rot for decades, the village has re-emerged as a bolt hole for wealthy Turks attracted by the fine wood-framed stucco houses that clutch precariously to the hillside. Despite teeming hawkers serving the mob of tourists, both Turkish and foreign, the village retains a real appeal. We grazed at the stalls, drank beer, sampled wine and infused the charm.
We thought of dropping in on fellow jobbing blogger and good egg Kirazli Karyn who lives only a spitting distance away but we didn’t want to descend unannounced and mob handed.
After our false start with a near death experience, we finally managed to inspect Clement’s new mountain village gaff. It took us three dollies and a donkey ride to get there. Further visits by public transport are off the agenda. Lunch was nice and the house is lovely, elegantly proportioned and stylish. Clement has painted a simple white canvass superbly accented by flashes of subtle colour. It’s a pity his terrace overlooks an untidy scrub containing a couple of disused brick shit houses.
Award winning novelist Louise De Bernières is coming to town – well to Kayaköy a tumble down deserted former Greek village actually. Expect a civilised, sunny afternoon of recital, chat and nibbles to chew over his superb novel Birds Without Wings. If only I could write like him. Profits from the event will go to local children in need so it’s not yet another jamboree for street dogs.
Birds without Wings is a beautifully crafted, intensely human tale set in an imaginary Aegean village called Eskibahçe. Although fictional, the village is based on the hamlet of Kayaköy (Greek: Levissi) near Fethiye. The story unfolds against the backdrop of the defeat and disintegration of the Ottoman Empire, the rise of the Turkish Republic and the innocent sounding ‘population exchange’ that occurred in 1923. This cruel trade was a curious and unique episode in modern history as it was mutually agreed by both governments and sanctioned by the League of Nations. 1.5 million Greeks from Anatolia and 500,000 Turks from Greece were forcibly expelled from their centuries-old communities and ‘repatriated’ to their so-called homelands. It was religious rather than ethnic cleansing since ethnic Turks who were Christian were out and ethnic Greeks who were Moslem were in, and vice versa.
The expulsions were a harsh and deliberate plan by both adversaries to create states of religious and cultural homogeneity. This might be forgiven as the inevitable consequence of two paranoid, insecure nations attempting to foster a loyal citizenry but the fall out still resounds to this day both in the Aegean region and in the wider world.
Louise de Bernières is perhaps best known for his earlier book Captain Corelli’s Mandolin which is set on the lush and verdant Greek Island of Kefalonia during World War Two. My very first holiday with Liam was to Kefalonia. Our debut jolly was marred by a manic Franco-Algerian woman, a bird with bingo wings. She took far too much of a frisky shine to Liam. She chased him around the pool like a bitch on heat and I had to tell her to keep her wandering lusty hands to herself.