Perking the Pansies in Southwest Turkey

Jane Akatay is an experienced journalist of depth, intelligence and passion. Jane and I first met when she approached me to participate in an article she was writing about English Language bloggers in southwest Turkey for the Turkish Daily News. Jane’s article, The Tales that Wag the Blogs, cleverly inter-weaved the views of five different quality bloggers, each with their own unique perspective on expat life. When I neared completion of the book, Jane was the first person I turned to for a review. Despite her busy schedule, Jane was pleased to oblige and she wrote more than I could have hoped for. It’s not a brief throwaway review. It’s an in-depth, forensic critique set within the context of modern Turkey mores. It blew me away. Thank you, Jane.

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A decade into the 21st century along comes Jack Scott, a gay middle-aged man, who has bravely taken early retirement, daringly chosen to share his day-to-day experiences of life with thousands online in his blog, ‘Perking The Pansies’, and has now written a book with the same title.

No big deal, you may think; it’s been done already. So what? But this man, his blog and his book are more than a little different: Jack Scott lives in a predominantly Muslim country.

Not content to live in the accepting social scene of cosmopolitan London, he and his husband Liam have chosen to come and live in southwest Turkey, a decision that not only subjected them to scrutiny from the Turkish community but also to the watchful eyes of the burgeoning expat community, many of whom he describes with delicious vitriol and cutting humour. With the forthcoming publication of his book, Perking the Pansies, his lifestyle choices and intimate details of his everyday life will be open for inspection by the rest of the world.

Ask a cross-section of Turkish people, especially down here on the coast, and they will tell you that Gayness is a western problem (read ‘disease’) and doesn’t exist in Turkey. It is also generally accepted (as in so many other countries and institutions throughout the world) that the only homosexual in an active relationship between two men is the one who ‘receives’. The ‘giver’s’ behaviour is not deemed to be remarkable at all: after all they are just members of the notorious ‘any hole’s a goal’ club.

So how does a sexually repressed and quintessentially macho society relate to two men living together in marital harmony?

Ten years ago many ‘straight’ British men on holiday in Turkey expressed their shock when witnessing Turkish men’s tactile behaviour with each other: holding hands, casually draping their arms around their friends’ shoulders, resting a hand on a friend’s knee – and leaving it there.

Any physical contact between men, to most Brits, smacked of homoerotica and to their suspicious homophobic minds meant that these demonstrative men were either gay or, even worse, indiscriminate in their sexual preferences – after all even married men were seen to be doing it.

When a gay (and famous) ‘artist’ came along to a local restaurant popular with tourists at the end of the 1990s and, decked in veils and with his heavily kohled come-hither eyes, danced in the most superbly, sensual way imaginable (Turkish men, whatever their shape, age or sexual orientation are generally wonderful dancers), complaints from tourists of both genders: the decadence, indecency of it was evidently traumatising for the average Daily Mail reader and their children. Homophobia is by no means the sole preserve of conservative Brits.

Talk with any heterosexual, bi or gay western man who is open enough to speak about his gender identity and sufficiently emotionally intelligent and aware to question his own sexual vulnerability and he will often say that the rules of oriental societies are blurred to the point where they no longer know what the rules actually are even though they are sure they exist – yet Jack Scott made an active choice to leave the UK and come and live in such an inscrutable society with his partner, Liam.

Scott attempts an explanation: it was economically more viable for the couple to live in Turkey, having taken early retirement? ‘Bill’ the name given by Jack and Liam to their computerised accounting system would suggest that this is no longer the case. Times are hard for all expats living on the dwindling interest realised on their investments.

Sunshine and wonderful summers would seem another good reason perhaps, but as Scott illustrates the winters are cold, wet and frequently miserable and the summers are scorching. For people attempting to get on with their lives, rather than holidaying, the climate is not so kind.

Turkish society maybe provides an answer? It is certainly hospitable and charming on the outside. But as they discover following a murder, it has a dark homophobic underbelly, exacerbated by violent sexual acts (the man’s body reveals evidence of rape), and subsequently a few people warn the couple that views are hardening against gayitude. There is also the disadvantage of a cumbersome bureaucracy, slow, opaque and frustrating for those used to transparency.

No, it seems that, like so many other visitors to Turkey, these two men simply fell in love with the country and all that that entails. They sell up and move out but with a proviso that should the experiment fail they would return to the UK.

There again, many make that choice, for a variety of reasons, but all too often when the dream has turned into a nightmare they no longer have the wherewithal to return and are stuck, full of loathing. Scott pulls no punches when meeting such people and it is a warning to all to beware of becoming nothing more than negative whingers.

Scott’s crisp little portraits are of embittered British expats and Chrissie and Bernard are Jack’s archetypal poisonous couple. They epitomise the expat horror and the storyline would be poorer without them. Clement, a beautifully portrayed old queen, on the other hand, antediluvian and bigoted as his views are, at least has an underlying love of his adoptive country to redeem him and as an aspiring Emiköy, tries to make the most of his chances. His delight in muscle bound rough Turkish men obviously has more than a little to do with his move to the country. We are left wondering whether he will survive. (Opportunity for another book, Scott?).

Scott wields a vicious and occasionally cruel pen when describing these characters but the vignettes are unrelentingly accurate. Will these people recognise themselves? Only time will tell. Emigreys are self-explanatory and although the term may or may not be an original soubriquet, we all know a few.

VOMITS (Victims Of Men In Turkey) on the other hand are a breed of their own and Scott makes use of several in the narrative although mostly at their own expense. But to be fair, his colourful descriptive prose also illustrates some less dysfunctional characters with charm and wit and no little pathos. The couple, Charlotte and Alan for example, who adopt a baby, are a case in point and as their experiences unfold the book takes on a much more serious slant.

Indeed, there is a shift from the smug, pink and fluffy style in the opening chapters, reminiscent of Scott’s blog, to a much more considered narrative in the middle and remaining chapters. As the plot develops (there is one, although this isn’t apparent at the beginning), the personalities of Jack, Liam and the other main characters in the book are sensitively expanded and much more realistic and sympathetic. The quips and bad gay-boy jokes become less frequent and the content takes on a serious exploration of what life really is like for all foreign expats and many Turks too.

Jack and Liam for the most part have a pragmatic and relaxed attitude towards their adopted country and its attitudes and appear to relish every aspect of its culture apart from the two episodes already described.

If the beautiful happy baby Adalet (Turkish for Justice) is a metaphor for the tender love that dared not speak its name until relatively recently in Britain and even now in Turkey, then it would appear that Jack and Liam should be more than a little cautious; and only come out of their Bodrum closet in the guise of cousins, as they chose to describe themselves towards the end of the book. Their future here in Turkey could be perilous but then again with Turkey you never really know – and that is one of its many joys.

Perking The Pansies can and should be read for a number of reasons and not just seen as a book for the gay niche market. It revels in some of the more obnoxious aspects of expats who buy into a country but not the culture (not Jack and Liam; although not completely innocent they do at least make an attempt to learn the language and customs.) Finally, for anyone who is not part of either minority group, it is simply a good read and hopefully the first of many by new boy on the block, Jack Scott.

Jane Akatay, journalist

Have it Your Way

Are you a thoroughly modern Millie and would like to download Perking the Pansies to your fancy Kindle thingy bobby? Perhaps you’re opposed to Amazon taking over the world? (Of course, I couldn’t possibly comment). Or maybe you’re a bit of a traditionalist that likes to browse the shelves and thumb through the latest releases? Well, you can do all these things. Perking the Pansies is now available to download to Kindle, to purchase online at WH Smiths and Waterstones (and many other online stores) and to order at any good bookshop near you. Go on, you know you want to.

Alternatively, you could buy the paperback or Kindle edition through my website and I’ll earn an extra few pence. No pressure.

All I Want for Christmas

I’m taking a festive break from this blogging lark. I’m knackered. Normal services will be resumed in the New Year (unless there’s a book crisis). Peace and goodwill to all pansy fans whoever and wherever you are. Revel in your drunken parties, one night stands, quality time with lovers, partners, family and friends or just have fun shutting the wicked world out to curl up on a sofa with a good book, a good bottle or a good DVD. Whatever Christmas means to you, enjoy.

Meanwhile, somewhere on the high seas, the crew of the HMS Ocean found out they would all be home for Christmas after 214 days at sea. They just had to celebrate, sometimes shirtless.

Cue the festive video from our brave jolly Jack Tars. There’s a couple of jolly Jackies too (though not topless, obviously).

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A Kindle for Christmas

Apparently, Kindle is de rigeur these days, the latest must have. I’m getting one for Christmas. I didn’t want it but Liam insisted. I won’t be using it lounging round a cool pool. I’d be terrified of splashing it with water, smearing it with sun tan lotion or spilling my G&T over it. I know I said I wasn’t going to mention the book again until 2012. I lied. So shoot me. Perking the Pansies is now available on Kindle. A bargain at £5.13.

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London in a Minute

We love our laidback Bodrum life even when huddled under a duvet watching BBC Entertainment on a loop. There’s just enough to do in Bodrum to keep us entertained during the short days of winter – cafés, restaurants, cinema, people. The summer hassle has been replaced by a more civilised, gentile pace and we will savour it before the heat and the hustle returns. However, this winter has been different; we’ve been spending our days beavering away to plug the book to death. You’re probably fed hearing about it. I know I am. They’ll be no more talk of it until 2012, unless something dramatic happens like a nomination for the Booker Prize or a call from a TV executive asking to buy the rights. Of course, this is as likely as me losing my virginity, but if the impossible happens, Liam wants to be played by Jude Law. He’s suggested that Danny DeVito might step into my pink slippers.

We’re really looking forward to our flying visit to Blighty for our big city Christmas fix. Bugger the doom and gloom and the whinging soothsayers who seem to wallow in the misery of others. We’re going to have fun in our home town.

Cue the cute London in a Minute video courtesy of Travel Yourself

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Perking the Pansies – Jack and Liam move to Turkey

Miracle Child

At the virginal age of 18, Liam moved from the Smoke to South Wales to study for his music degree at Cardiff University. He stayed in Wales for 15 years. Having paid £5 to get in across the Severn Bridge, he wanted his money’s worth. The Principality has a rich history of musical excellence and this rubbed off on the young Liam. During his long exile in the Valleys, he lost his virtue and used his mouth and hands to creative effect on oboe and ivory. He sought satisfaction for his creative juices and found it with the Mountain Ash and District Choral Society who commissioned him to compose Christmas carols. Eventually, he hitched up his skirt and waded across Offa’s Dyke to return like the Prodigal Son to the bosom of his family. Liam’s never quite forgotten those halcyon days of quavers and choirs. Even today, his long-past association with these talented people brings a tear to his eye and joy to his heart. Imagine his pleasure and surprise when, two decades on, he discovered that they are once again performing one of his 20th Century pieces at a 2011 Christmas service. It’s made his year.

As it’s that Christmas time of year again, I give you Miracle Child for your festive entertainment. It’s a bit ropey as it was recorded on an old cassette recorder at the back of the hall. Hey, it beats the hell out of Slade on a continuous loop.

Miracle Child

The book

Blighted Blighty

Blighted Blighty

 

I received a witty email from Blighty life friend, Ian. No, that’s not him in the photo. As youngish singletons, he and I cruised across Europe and beyond, seeking high jinks and low frolics. Amsterdam, Paris, Gran Canaria, Sitges, Istanbul, Croydon – nowhere was safe. These days we’re both hitched and respectable pillars of the community.

Ian wrote:

Hope all’s well in your world and you are gearing up for an uneventful Brit visit. It’s relentless doom and gloom here, of course, with a daily update of Angela Merkel’s hair-do on the News and Cameron getting redder and redder as the weeks pass. The British media are loving exploring all the Doomsday scenarios, obviously. Still, Harry from Mcfly is still in Strictly so there’s something to swoon over as we all sink into the abyss. Hope your launch is massive. The Champoo is on you!

Strictly Coming Dancing, the opium of the masses. Good old Auntie Beeb. Harry is rather fetching, though. He’d certainly keep my mind off the overdraft.

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Perking the Pansies – Jack and Liam move to Turkey