Pretty in Pink

What better way to spend a steamy afternoon than at a traditional village fête? The community-minded folk of Poringland do it every year. The neat and tidy village, just a few miles south of Norwich, was first mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 as ‘Porringhelanda’, though you’d never know it was old from the modern sprawl built over the ancient roots. I’ve never been to a proper village fête before. It was everything I’d imagined – dancing kiddies, face-painting, bouncy castling, good causes, competitions, arts, crafts, pulled pork, candy floss and cakes, lots of cakes – and some things I hadn’t – a podgy spiderman with love handles and visible panty line, and the campest compere since Julian Clary. All that was missing was DI Barnaby from Midsomer Murders poring over a bell ringer done-in with a cake slice behind the hoopla.

Liam bought a couple of tickets for the tombola. His prize? A pink spaghetti-strap nightie for the fuller figure. How the ladies giggled as they handed it over. Keen to get in touch with his sexy feminine side, Liam slipped it on and gave me a twirl.

 

 

 

Angels, Monks and the Devil’s Brew

Angels, Monks and the Devil’s Brew

Learning to speak English must be difficult enough, but learning to spell it must bring even the most dedicated student out in hives. It’s just the little game we English like to play on Johnny Foreigner. Place names can be particularly bothersome. So for the uninitiated…

Leicester is Lester, Gloucester is Gloster, Chiswick is Chizik, Warwick is Warik (unless you’re Dionne) Harwich is Haridge and Norwich is Noridge (or Naaridge if you’re from round these parts).

But there is a certain consistency to the cesters, the wicks and the wiches. Not so in Norfolk – or I should say Naarfuk. Asking a Naaridge bus driver for a ticket to Costessey or Wymondham will provoke a puzzled response. You see, it’s Caassy and Windum. Confused? You will be.

We’d learned our lesson in correct enunciation by the time we caught our bus to Wymondham, a pretty parish of 15,000 souls southwest of Norwich. June was bustin’ out all over the place along the 10 mile route. We arrived to find the place bathed in sunshine but spookily empty for a hot Saturday afternoon. Perhaps everyone was at Pilates.

The main event was the famous abbey, founded in 1107. Well, it was famous until Henry VIII got his grubby hands on it. Once a thriving Benedictine priory, it only survived complete demolition by becoming the parish church – the monks were pensioned off and the last abbot became the local vicar. Nevertheless, and despite being half the length it once was, the twin-towered abbey church remains an imposing pile, rising majestically above the pine trees. Inside, the largely Norman-period nave has a fine wooden roof studded with carved angels. We sat in the pews awhile watching the roadies setting up for an evening concert. A plot for Midsomer Murders gathered momentarily in my mind in which an angel is pushed from the roof to squash a portly mezzo-soprano as she sings something seductive from Carmen. But whodunnit? If I ever get the commission, you’ll be the first to know but suffice it to say it involves a darts match and a ladies-only night in Cromer. I decided to call the episode ‘Revenge of the Fallen Angels’. As you can tell, I got rather carried away.

Wandering round, we’d never met a friendlier or more passionate bunch of volunteers. They positively gushed with enthusiasm. Without them we wouldn’t have known about the abbey’s more eclectic secrets. I cradled the hand of an angel to pray for world peace – and a lottery win. Liam stuck his finger in the monk’s hole and made a wish. Amen to that.

We were also told about the secret tunnel that allegedly led to the nearby fourteenth century Green Dragon tavern and the ancient exit still to be found in the pub. Apparently, the naughty monks were rather fond of the Devil’s brew. It might explain all that hole filling. Naturally, we had to investigate and partake of the Devil’s brew ourselves –  purely for research purposes.

 

Midsomer Murder

I’ve been asked what the book is actually about. You’ll have to read it to find out, but suffice it to say, I learned some valuable lessons from David Steddall, the English Literature teacher at my South London grammar school. “A story should have a beginning, a middle and an end,” he would say. We’ve all heard the mantra. He seemed to like my essays, even if they were sometimes a little risqué in a post-pubescent, hormone-raging sort of way. His encouragement gave me confidence. He would often give me top marks and have me recite my work in class. Tragically, I failed* my Lit O Level. I just didn’t get the poetry and I was a lazy little student. Still, I’ve stayed faithful to Dave’s cause ever since and my book has a beginning, a middle and an end. It’s not a random series of observations like the blog. It’s the full story of our time in Turkey, warts and all. It’s not all light and frothy either. We’ve experienced some dark moments here:

Liam left exactly two months after we moved into the house in Bodrum. He dashed home on a mercy mission and I had no idea when he would be coming back. Üzgün’s death had thrown him off kilter and now he was needed in London.

The night before, we had dined al fresco to take advantage of yet another blessed, balmy evening. Liam’s gastronomic ambitions had reached such a pinnacle that we had less and less reason to eat out. The courtyard was a perfect setting. We reminisced about the days when, at the slightest hint of fine weather, we would rush home from work and grab the opportunity to eat in the garden.

We chinked glasses. “To the good life, Liam.”

It was a hollow toast. Üzgün’s murder had changed everything. He had been raped, robbed and murdered by three teenagers in a back street of Yalıkavak. His body was found in a dry river bed, naked, beaten and barely recognisable.

Liam got the call he had been dreading. He packed a suitcase and taxied to the airport to pick up the next available flight. I stayed awake for most of the night, texting Liam and trying to make sense of the mess around us. I camped on the balcony for hours, questioning my flawed understanding of Turkish society, balancing the highs with the lows and wondering if, ultimately, we had made one huge mistake. My head was a mass of interconnected thoughts and contradictions, each leading to a different conclusion and each stirring up an emotion that took me right back to where I started. I set myself a challenge. I would stay awake until the morning; by then I would know what to do.

The lights went out in Türkkuyusu just as they had done many times before. How could Turkey ever hope to become an industrial powerhouse if they couldn’t keep the bloody lights on? I stared into the darkened streets, lit only by the headlights of passing traffic. I wanted to speak to Liam but he was in the skies somewhere over Europe. I wanted to ask him why we didn’t go to Spain or why we left London in the first place. I knew he would answer, “because we’re different and different is good. Remember the pioneers. ‘Good As You’, they said.”

*I passed English Language with flying colours (along with history). Liam is trying to convert me to the joys of poetry. I fear it’s a lost cause.

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