Park Life

Park Life

Right now the view from the microloft is autumn bleak with a fat shroud of nickel grey as far as the eye can see. It’s just as well I don’t suffer from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) or I might get as low as the cloud and chuck myself out of the window. What better way to recall the hazy days of August than with a few sunny snaps of our trip to Eaton Park?

Laid out at the beginning of the 20th century, the park was designed to keep Norwich folk out of the pubs and factory-fit. It’s still doing it today with a bewildering range of sweaty things to do on bikes, on skates and on foot with bats, rackets, mallets, clubs and balls of every conceivable shape, size and texture. It was way too hot for anything muscular so we decided instead to exercise our tastebuds with a fruity bottle of white Rioja in the delicious café.

Salud!

White Rioja

Ah, memories…

More Postcards from Gran Canaria

More Postcards from Gran Canaria

Following last week’s delivery from the Royal Mail, here’s the second batch of postcards to land on the mat.

Mad Pedro

The staff in our global holiday village are delightful, particularly Pedro, our mad barman. He services us with charm and generosity and rings his little bell every time he gets a tip. It’s like a royal wedding at Westminster Abbey when we’re around and the bigger the tip we give, the bigger the drink we get. As Pedro said to Liam:

Ah, you Engleesh with your happy hour. It’s always happy hour in Pedro’s bar!

Loose Talk

Regular readers will know I’m a dedicated eavesdropper. Here’s a small selection:

And I’ll tell you one thing for nothing. As soon as I get home, I’m back on the tramadol.

 

 We went tut Benidorm in January. It were great. We ‘ad beach to ourselves.

Oh. How come?

It were rainin’.

 

Me son’s got an apartment in Bulgaria.

Nice. Wotsit like?

Cheap but those Bulgarians…you wouldn’t trust ‘em.

 

Of course, we normally go to Goa, don’t we Jean? All-in for a tenner a day – and that includes two packs of fags and enough booze to sink the Ark Royal.

A Yumbo Cocktail

We’re just a short mince from the Yumbo Center, the largest of the many tacky shopping and entertainment centres dotted about Playa Del Ingles. As I wrote back in 2012 after our last trip…

The Yumbo Center is the throbbing epicentre of gay Canarian low-life. The Yumbo is a naff treat for all the senses, a crumbling multi-layered open air shopping and sex emporium. It started to fall apart as soon as it was built (some twenty five years ago). By day, it’s an over-sized pound shop patronised by ancient slow-lane Germans in busy shirts and socked sandals. But, at the stroke of midnight, the racks of tat are wheeled away, the garish bars throw open their doors and the entire place is transformed into a gaudy cacophonous neon-lit cess-pit of drunken debauchery.

Gran Canaria Sex Emporium

It was one of my most popular posts ever. Can’t think why. Strangely, we’ve only ventured into the Yumbo Center once so far – and then only during the day to do a bit of shopping for that must-buy momento. The venues come and go but the place never really changes – apart from the newly installed lift for the mobility-challenged. It’s true, we did stop for a daiquiri or two – for old time’s sake and to survey the footfall. Our immediate neighbours were an over-waxed Franco-German gay couple with plucked brows, precision beards and perfect pecs. They could have been separated at birth. Must be like shagging a mirror. When they weren’t fiddling with their iPhones (to check Grindr, presumably), they communicated in Globalish*. Our barman was pretty. And pretty useless. Just like every gay bar around the world.

yumbo-centre

Geordie Shore

Mercifully, the heatwave has broken. I’d started to lose the plot and I was a hair’s breath away from garrotting the leathery old early birds who always get the brollies. With plunged temperatures, Liam bundled me out of the apartmentos for an excursion to Puerto de Mogán, a marina resort on the south-west coast of the island. We went by public transport, by far the easiest way to get around. Naturally, the bus stop was like a multi-national rugby scrum. You’d think people were fleeing a war zone. Why do we Brits bother queueing?

Set on a steep-sided valley, Puerto de Mogán is built in faux Spanish colonial style and very pretty it is too. But the epithet ‘Venice of the Canaries’ is over-egging the pudding a bit. There’s just the one ‘canal’ – more of a creek really. Still, we ate tapas in a lovely marinaside restaurant followed by coffee and cake in an inviting backstreet bakery. The port’s like a mini version of Bodrum in look and feel, particularly with the dripping, multi-coloured bougainvillea. Sadly, the relaxed ambience was marred by a gang of pissed-up Geordies stalking the streets and waving empty Peroni bottles. My dad was a Geordie. He’d be spinning in his urn.

Back to Bodrum

All in all, it’s been a splendid week, with batteries, scent and cigs (for my mother) recharged. Next trip: back to Bodrum for the wedding of the year. Now that really is something to write home about.

*Globalish is the cut-down version of English used by air traffic controllers, international conferences and dating apps which is totally lacking in elegance, colour, nuance or wit.

Turkey Street

The sequel to Perking the Pansies is the story of our lives weaved in between those around us. For a good few months, act two of our emigrey tales had the working title of The Sisterhood. Why? Well, the overwhelming majority of our big hitting cast, emigrey and Turkish alike, were women trying to steer their own course in a man’s world – some sailed off into the sunset while others floundered on the rocks. From the start, the title seemed a fitting choice. The sisters were the main event while we were the spectators. But, as the book went from story board to page, it became increasingly clear that we weren’t mere voyeurs and the story wasn’t just about the Bodrum Belles we lived among. The bigger picture was about change and moving on – for them , for us, for Turkey. So now there is a new working title:

Turkey Street,

Jack and Liam move to Bodrum

Lady in Bodrum

Six months into their Turkish affair, Jack and Liam, a gay couple from London, took lodgings in the oldest ward of Bodrum Town. If they wanted to shy away from the curtain-twitchers, they couldn’t have chosen a worse position. Their terrace overlooked Turkey Street like the balcony of Buckingham Palace and the middle-aged infidels stuck out like a couple of drunks at a temperance meeting. Against all the odds, the boys from the Smoke were welcomed into the fold by a feisty mix of eccentric locals and a select group of trailblazing expats, irresistible ladies with racy pasts and plucky presents. Hop aboard Jack’s rainbow gulet as he navigates the choppy waters of a town on the march and a national resurgence not seen since Suleiman the Magnificent was at the gates of Vienna. Grab your deckchair for a whirlwind tour of love and duty, passion and betrayal, broken hearts and broken bones, dirty politics and the dawn of a new Ottoman era.

Should’ve Gone to McDonald’s

Should’ve Gone to McDonald’s

2013-08-23 15.59.33It can be reasonably argued that Indian cuisine began the transformation of the British palate from the drabness of the bread-rationing years to the all-corners-of-the-world flavour it is today. Liam and I love a bit of South Asian and Liam cooks up a mean curry (from a recipe, not a jar). Since our return to Blighty, we hadn’t actually stepped out for an Indian. Until recently. We decided to give the Merchants of Spice a go, a highly recommended eatery located in a fine old building on Colegate, a short stroll from our Weaver’s cottage. Did we enjoy the experience? Yes and no. Inside its antique shell, the restaurant was minimalist chic without a hint of the flock wallpaper and chintzy gilt of old and the mood was sophisticated and buzzy. The bhajis were disappointingly dry but the rest of the food was fine, plentiful and served up in elegant dishes. So why my reticence? Well, the set-price three course menu advertised on a board outside was off menu by the time we took our seats. But my main gripe was the service from the over-familiar waiters. They pestered us like wasps at a picnic, interrupting every conversation and force-filling our glasses. It brought back unhappy memories of certain Turkish restaurants we learned to avoid. The rapid-fire courses prevented us from making a meal of our meal and our gentle pleas to slow things down fell on deaf ears. If we’d wanted fast food, we’d have gone to McDonalds.

Jack and Liam go to Palma

Jack and Liam go to Palma

Old Palma is a place in which to wander and explore. This is just as well. Our hotel, the Costa Azul, hadn’t quite finished constructing the bar by the miniscule pool or supplied enough parasols to avoid third degree burns on the sun terrace. We spent blissful days meandering through narrow cobbled streets, along grand boulevards, over battlements and across elegant piazzas. Palma is a city with art at its heart and the evidence is liberally littered around the streets.

Come nightfall, the Santa Catalina ward – once down at heel but now dressed up to the nines – seduced us with her trendy bars, cool restaurants and laid-back vibe. Upmarket Old Palma is a far cry from downmarket Palma Nova and eating out comes with a West End price tag attached. We stuck with the set menus to keep a check on the check. Still, a palatable glass or two of Rioja was very reasonable priced wherever we watered, and we did quite a lot of watering. Generally, the crowds were good humoured and lively, without being raucous. The one exception was a small bar called The Escape, a roadside inn tucked into the corner of a pretty piazza and frequented by pissed-up Brits from the yachting fraternity. Typical.

Towards the tail end of our stay, we pushed the boat out to visit Ábaco, a cocktail bar in the old town. Occupying a palatial former merchant’s house, part bar, part museum, Ábaco is a bit of an institution with guests being serenaded by light opera in Baroque opulence as they sip lethal cocktails served by snotty waiters in gold lamé cummerbunds. The entire experience was Disney kitsch with a crazy Catalan twist and only slightly marred by the continuous procession of camera-toting tourists wanting to stand, snap and gawp (image courtesy of MallorcaHoliday.com).

abaco2

We took the opportunity to venture out of town to the small resort of Ca’n Pastilla to surprise an old friend. Welsh rarebit, Bernard, gave up butlering for bar work a few years back and now owns ‘Thai at the Tavern,’ an unassuming little establishment at the end of the promenade. It does exactly what it says on the tin. Pop in if you’re in town. You’re sure to get a warm welcome, a cold beer and a spicy Siamese from the friendly valley boy. Bernard and I used to step out with the same fella (but not at the same time, obviously). I call Bernard El Presidente of the First Wives Club. When the bar closed, we ended the evening in a backstreet dive well away from the main drag with Bernard, a bunch of jovial locals, a bottle or three of cheap plonk and a strong whiff of weed. The next day we had wine flu.

Cock of the Coop

Cock of the Coop

 

Being a London boy with my London ways, I’ve had limited experience of country life. The occasional weekend cottage in North Wales and four-in-a-bed caravanning holidays in the middle of nowhere don’t really count. To be sure, on primary school trips to Swanage in Dorset and Shanklin on the Isle of Wight, I endured the obligatory excursion to jobbing farms to sniff the shitty whiff, pet the ponies and frighten the sheep. I do remember thinking ‘Sunday roast, mint sauce with all the trimmings, yummy’. The scale of modern-day industrial farming was driven home when I watched conveyor belt cows being drained by an enormous robotic milking machine. No wonder Daisy always looked startled.

Katie Price

Until we set foot on Anatolian soil, I’d never seen a live chicken in the flesh, so to speak. My chickens came hung, drawn and often quartered. Suddenly, clutches of clucking chickens were everywhere I looked, even in the heart of Bodrum. The harems of hens were invariably corralled by a loud and bad-tempered rooster complete with dandy plumage and a cock of the coop demeanour (a bit like the waiters). I remember thinking that British chickens must be smaller than their Turkish cousins. Perhaps Turkish fowl live longer and grow larger. Perhaps they’re fed on extra-strength growth hormones. Whatever the reason, Turkish chicken breasts were Amazonian by comparison, the Katie Price of the poultry world.

Chirpy Chirpy Cheap Cheap

As we munched on our hearty treat at the Yeni Bodrum Ocakbaşı, we gazed across at the Istanköy Hotel. I felt a shudder down my spine. Back in 2008, a couple of months before we finally paddled ashore with all our worldly goods, we spent a week in the hotel courtesy of Thomas Cook. When we arrived we were escorted to a dingy sunken room the size of a broom cupboard. Natural light was supplied by a caged slit. It was not a good start. I complained and we were moved to a better room. I say ‘better’ purely in the comparative sense. Our stay was challenging. The over-familiar staff greeted us with ‘yes, mate’ or ‘hello Jimmy’ and it was impossible to get round the rowdy pool for tattooed honey monsters with their brats in caps (despite being in term time). To top it all, we were sure that something dodgy was going on with our safety deposit box.

We had booked cheap and cheerful because it was only a bed for the night. The purpose of our trip was to dolly-hop across the peninsula trying on the towns and villages for size. Early readers will know that we settled on Yalıkavak, a pretty coastal village, about 20 kilometres northwest of Bodrum.

The town of Bodrum is not well-served with good budget hotels. There’s a real gap in the market for the cheap and chirpy rather than the cheap and nasty.

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