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Disclaimer This book is based on actual events. To protect the privacy of the persons involved, and in the interest of narrative clarity, some names, characterisations, locations, conversations and timescales have been changed.
For John Ascendant star shot down by fate Tesekkür Ederim
My eternal thanks to the expats of Turkey who handed me a story (or was it a poisoned chalice?) on an appreciative plate. The truth is often stranger than fiction. I continue to be surprised and touched by the remarkable interest shown by my blogreading pansy fans. Y our support prompted me to write this book. A special mention to proof-reader extraordinaire, Helen Fraser, who had the unenviable task of trawling through the error-strewn first draft. Paul Burston’s encouragement has been hugely welcome as have the surprisingly kind words from the reviewers of the book. Thank you to my inspirational publisher, Jo Parfitt, for taking a gamble on an unknown writer: I hope her blind faith will be rewarded. A big hand to Kilian Kröll, my brilliant American editor, who coped with some baffling and racy British idioms with patience and good humour. To my London life friends, thank you for keeping me sane. I’m so grateful to Charlotte and Alan for letting me tell their heart aching tale. One day Adalet will return. Profound thanks to my mother and my family who take me as I am and love me regardless. Finally, how could I not mention my Liam? Without whom
and all that. His double-whammy strategy of challenge and support made this book what it is. So blame him if you don’t like it.
‘A great deal of harm is being done in the modern world by the belief in the righteousness of work.’ Bertrand Russell
PREFACE - ASIA MINOR, A CONTINENT IN MINIATURE
Just imagine the absurdity of two openly gay, recently married, middle-aged, middle class men escaping the liberal sanctuary of anonymous London to relocate to a Muslim country. The country in question is not Iran (we had no desire to be lynched from the nearest olive tree by the Revolutionary Guard) but neighbouring Turkey, a secular nation practising a moderate and state-supervised form of Islam. Even so, Turkey provides a challenge to the free-spirited wishing to live unconventionally. Openly gay Turks in visible same-sex relationships are as rare as ginger imams. There are more parallels between Britain and Turkey than many realise. Both are historic nations once united under Ancient Rome, fiercely independent and suspicious of a new pan-European empire formed by a Treaty in modern Rome. Both are anchored to the edge of Europe but chained to it economically. Both have a political and cultural heritage so immense that they transformed the world. Both have emerged from the long shadow of an empire destroyed by world wars and both are trying to forge a modern role in a rapidly changing world. Türkiye means ‘land of the strong’, an old Turkic/Arabic compound. Anatolia translates as ‘sunrise’ from ancient Greek. Both poetic epitaphs are fitting depictions of a vast land blessed with striking physical beauty, wrought by the brutal force of Mother Nature, and fought over, won and lost by invaders across all of recorded time. Turkey is a nation familiar to many Brits: the beer-swigging tattooed tourist seeking cheap fun in the sun with chips on the side, and those of a more scholarly hue who wonder at the unparalleled scale and depth of Anatolian culture and history. Traditional Turkey is the
true crossroad of civilisations, the evidence of which lies casually underfoot, and a land where kinship and community reign supreme. New Turkey is a reinvigorated, rising, regional power, the ephemeral playground of pallidskinned, sun-starved Northern Europeans gorging themselves on expensive imported bacon, cheap local plonk and one-upmanship. Islamic majesty sits uncomfortably alongside bargain bucket tourism. It was precisely this compelling contradiction of the captivating and the comical that lured two culture-curious gay boys out from under the cosy duvet of laissez-faire London life. This book began life as a monthly email commentary of our experiences in our foster land and the extraordinary people – the sad, the mad, the bad and the glad – we encountered along the way. I called my dispatches ‘witterings’ and shared them with my wish-you-wereheres. As the witterings grew, high and low drama unfolded around us. So began a rollercoaster ride that amused, moved, surprised and ultimately changed us forever.
CHAPTER 1 - IN THE BEGINNING
In the beginning there was work, and work was God. After thirty-five years in the business, the endless predictability made me question the Faith. Liam, on the other hand, was neither bored nor unchallenged but routinely subjected to the demands of a feckless boss, a soft and warm Christmas tree fairy with a soul of granite, Lucifer in lace. He feared for his tenure. I feared for his mental health. “Happy Birthday, Liam.” Our favourite Soho brasserie was illuminated by flickering antique oil lamps and the occasional beam of light from the kitchen. The restaurant was swollen with rowdy after-hours workers, swapping gossip and feasting on hearsay. We had squeezed into a small recess by the window, dribbles of condensation trickling down the glass and obscuring the view to the street beyond. Liam ripped off his Armani tie and draped it across the back of his chair. “Thanks, Jack. Forty-six and fully-functioning tackle.” “I’ll drink to that.” Our waiter intruded. “Have you decided?” “Y Cato,” I said. “We’ll both have the special.” es, The cute Colombian turned on his heels and sashayed off towards the kitchen. Liam retrieved his tie and rolled it absently around his fingers. “Y do know that’s Italian silk?” ou “It’s just a shackle. An over-priced, over-hyped, ridiculous little shackle.” He closed his eyes and massaged his forehead with the tips of his fingers.
“Good day at the office, darling?” “Just pour the wine, Jack.” Liam folded his tie, placed it neatly on the table and stared into my eyes with unusual intensity. “Jack, you know I love you, don’t you?” “Sure I do.” In the three years we had been together, Liam had been irrepressibly affectionate. We had recently married, an affirming fanfare of family and friends crowned by two glorious weeks in Turkey. I had never felt more loved. “Look,” said Liam. “I’ve got something to tell you.” Cato returned and fussed over the table setting for what seemed like an age, adjusting the condiments like chess pieces to make room for the oversized plates. He placed the white linen napkins on our laps and started to fret over my cutlery. “That’s fine, Cato!” Liam shuffled uncomfortably, and Cato and his impossibly thin waist minced back to the kitchen. “I thought you liked this place?” I said. “I thought you were happy?” “I do. I am.” He forced a smile. “This is you looking happy?” Our food arrived along with a fresh bottle of wine and a sulking waiter. “It’s the job,” said Liam. “It’s driving me insane.” He took a fortifying swig of wine. “I told that bitch of a boss where to stick her profit margins. I’ve done it. I’ve quit.” Liam had spent the last two years working for a cut-andthrust, slash-and-burn private sector company, vainly trying to coax the unemployable into work. He sought stimulation and challenge and got both in spades, along with a gruelling twelve hour day. I reached over the table and held his hand.
“Jumping ship’s fine, love. As long as it’s onto dry land.” “But, you’re my dry land, aren’t you?” Cato returned every now and then to check on my mood and replenish our glasses, his distracting buns quivering like two piglets in a sack. As Liam and I chatted, the windows started to de-mist and we caught glimpses of the drab winter coats and scarves scurrying along the icy street outside. “The worker bees of London,” said Liam. “Just look at them.” I got the point. I’d worked in social care for thirty years, gently ascending a career ladder to middle management, middle income and a middling suburban terrace; comfortable, secure and passionately dissatisfying. We talked with growing animation through the starter, main course and deliciously calorific death by chocolate dessert, about the evils of work, and how our jobs were ruining our health. “What the hell are we doing?” said Liam. “The same as everyone else love, treading water.” “That’s it? Thrashing about in the shallows?” “Better than drowning.” “I’d rather take my chances.” Jacques Brel belted out Jackie through the restaurant speakers and Liam considered his next move. “We’re stuck in a rut, Jack, a big fat suburban rut. There’s more to life than matching bathrobes and strategically placed scatter cushions.” “Y ou’re drunk.” “As a skunk.” “So what would you have us do? Sell the semi?” “Y eah, why not?” “Because it’s our home, that’s why not. What would we do? Walk the streets and queue at the soup kitchen? Live in a
cardboard box and wait for Godot?” “Now who’s drunk? Let’s just do it.” “For fuck’s sake, Liam, do what?” “Something different. Somewhere else.” He paused. “More than tread water.” I peered at Liam through my wine glass, his face distorted like a reflection in a hall of mirrors. The booze was coursing through my veins and I was feeling more receptive by the bottle. Cato appeared through the crowd carrying a tiny birthday cake lit by a single pink candle. A perfectly formed forty-six was neatly iced onto the delicate vanilla sponge. “Happy Birthday, Señor Liam. Feliz Día from the House.” The pre-occupied diners around us gave Liam a half-baked hand. We laughed and I thanked Cato for his thoughtfulness. “Perfect timing, my little camarero. Another bottle and make it quick.” We awoke to the sound of heavy rain pounding against the rattling sash windows. The radio was blaring and the central heating was firing on full. Liam leaped out of bed, returning with a pot of freshly brewed French roast and a jug of water. He was annoyingly bright. “Paracetamol?” I mumbled into the pillow. “Leave the packet.” He perched on the side of the bed and stroked the back of my neck. “If that’s a prelude to anything requiring movement, forget it.” “Look. I’ve been awake half the night thinking.” Liam began to recall our wine-fuelled debate in remarkable detail. “What if we actually do it?” he said. “What if we sell up
and head for heat and hedonism?” I rubbed my eyes and reached for my glasses. “Well?” said Liam. “It has its attractions.” “That’s it? It has its attractions? Wake up, Jack. Let’s bugger off to Nirvana.” My brain struggled to find first gear and slipped back into neutral. A squad of sadistic dwarfs was pick-axing the inside of my head. “It’s not that simple, Liam. If it was, everyone would do it.” “Repeat after me, Jack: work is the root of all evil. Imagine life without the turgid meetings, kiss-my-arse bosses and noseto-nipple commutes.” “Imagine life without money, Liam. Poverty is the root of all evil.” I took a pill and downed another glass of water. “We’ve equity in the houses,” said Liam. “Not enough. It wouldn’t last.” “Oh come on, nothing lasts.” Liam leapt up and pulled open the curtains. The rain had petered out and winter sunshine streaked through the windows. He was resolute. “We could rent.” “Rent?” “Y rent. A bargain basement by the sea.” es, “A beach hut in Bognor? I don’t think so.” “Even if we had more time together?” “Especially if we had more time together.” “And more sex.” “God, it gets worse.”
“I’m serious, Jack. If….” I cupped my hand over Liam’s mouth. “Pour me that cup of coffee and let me think.” Later in the day, revived by full-fat croissants and intravenous caffeine, we lay next to each other on the super-sized bed, staring at the ceiling and calmly hatching our audacious plot to step off the treadmill and migrate to the sun. Liam convinced me that anything was possible; all we had to do was decide where. He fancied France but I was less than keen. I once stayed at a rancid carbuncle in a godforsaken village in the middle of the Dordogne. The only other hotel guest was a dead rat floating in the kidney-shaped cesspit they called a pool. When I checked out the next morning, the propriétaire and his finger-sucking sister offered me an extended stay in return for a ménage à trois. I politely declined their kind offer. As I left the foyer, a pack of rabid dogs launched an unprovoked offensive on my suitcase, presumably attempting to retrieve the warm saucisse I’d purloined from the hotel breakfast table. One of them, clearly starved of accouplement, decided to mount the case and squirt his jus d’amour over my Samsonite. On a visit to Normandy, I had a life-changing incident in a roadside convenience, an experience that rotted my espadrilles and permanently damaged my sense of smell. The revolting hole in the ground was overflowing with an aromatic pee soup, liberally spiced with putrid garlic, topped with stool croutons and bubbling up like a witch’s cauldron. It had clearly been used by every Tom, Dick and Norman in town, more than once. A brisk wind up the English Channel would have carried the offending stench to Sweden and given surströmming a run for its money. “Y know what they say, Liam. The French have clean ou
kitchens and dirty toilets. The English have clean toilets and dirty kitchens. I know which I’d prefer.” I had a soft spot for Spain but the place was already teeming with Brits on the run and anyway, Liam had a principled aversion to bull fighting. Gran Canaria – Spain with a gin twist – was little more than a duty-free brothel in the Atlantic and was overrun with naked Germans waving Teutonic tackle around the X-rated sand dunes. Italy was home to the Vicar of Bigots and sleazy politicians, Portugal had fado but precious little else, and Greece was an economic basket case on the verge of civil implosion. As we dismissed each country with outrageous prejudice, we knew that anywhere in the Eurozone was probably beyond our means. The pound was poorly and the ailing patient was getting weaker by the day. Everything pointed in one direction, and it was Liam who finally voiced our biased decision. “Y get a lot of bang for your bucks in Turkey.” ou We had just returned from Bodrum, a chic and cosmopolitan kind of place attracting serious Turkish cash, social nonconformists and relatively few discount tourists. Liam loved it and after many years visiting the western shores of Anatolia, I needed no convincing. We were agreed. It was Turkey or nowhere. Several hours of feverish planning passed. Scribbled Post-it notes and an annotated map of south western Turkey guided us through a long and impassioned debate. We briefly entertained the notion of living in Kaş on the Turkuaz Coast. We had honeymooned there and fallen under its captivating spell. The sparkling Bohemian jewel was surrounded by a pristine hinterland and had mercifully been spared the worst excesses of mass tourism. Its glorious isolation was also its downfall. The resort was a wilting two-hour drive from the nearest
international airport, was effectively closed out of season and lacked those dull but essential full-time services we all need in the real world: banks, supermarkets and an upmarket drag bar. We cast our eyes along the map. The coast running south-east of Kaş had been colonised by Germans and Russians and the string of concrete resorts running north – Fethiye, Marmaris, Altınkum and Kuşadası – attracted legions of beer-soaked karaoke Brits. Bodrum, the bookmaker’s favourite, won by a mile. At this point, we got stuck – hopelessly stuck – in the quicksand of reality. Planning the fantasy was thrilling and cathartic but ultimately hopeless. Despite our best efforts to make all the pieces fit, practicalities and a whole range of insoluble conundrums got in the way. Liam called them technical hitches and doggedly refused to concede defeat. I admired his pluck to bet against the odds. All I had to do was sell my East London house, just as prices were in free fall. All he had to do was agree a financial settlement with his ex on their jointly-owned property in Kent. Thus far, that particular knotty problem had proved more difficult to resolve than the Arab-Israeli conflict. “I’ll speak to Robbie,” said Liam. “Y never know.” ou I did know. Robbie wouldn’t give an inch. It fell to me to end the delusional pipedream. “It’s not just about us, love.” Liam collapsed on to the bed and buried his face in the crumpled map of Turkey. “Y mother,” he mumbled. our “Y parents.” our “I know, I know, they need us.” “And we need them.” We lay on the bed in silence, running through the endless
permutations in our heads. After a while we fell soundly asleep, wrapped around each other and dreaming of the impossible.
CHAPTER 2 - AVE MARIA
There was a persistent and impatient rap at the door. I had just stepped out of the shower. Dressed in a slack cerise dressing gown and Mickey Mouse slippers, I shuffled down the hallway, praying that Liam had mislaid his keys again. “Oh. Colin. What’s up?” “Y didn’t tell me you were selling your house.” ou “Didn’t I?” “No.” “Is there a problem?” “Y are then?” ou “Y es.” Colin twitched and looked me up and down. “Am I interrupting something, Jack?” “No. Why?” “Y ou’re wet.” “That’s generally what happens when you take a shower.” He gawked at my slippers. “Y like?” I said. “Look, would you like to come in?” ou Colin was an easy neighbour but had perfected the art of calling at the most inconvenient times. As usual he was neatly dressed in Marks and Sparks knitwear, brown corduroy trousers and tan Hush Puppies. Horn-rimmed spectacles perched precariously on the end of a lumpy nose, and he was clutching a bulging continental purse. I was fluffy-robed, knicker-less and vulnerable. “I’ll just make myself decent.” “No need, I’ll be quick.” Colin swept into the dining room, sat cross-legged at the table and adjusted his hearing-aid. “Look, Jack, I’ll come straight to the point. How much do you want for the house?”
“Y want to buy my house?” ou “Y In cash.” es. “In cash? Y want to buy my house in cash? I’ll make ou some tea.” I beat a retreat to the kitchen. I needed thinking time. Had this upstanding, tee-total, retired accountant finally lost his immaculately arranged marbles and hit the sauce? Why did he want this house so badly? I re-tied the sash around my robe; this was no time for a Basic Instinct moment. This was time for a big bucks moment. Be calm, Jack. Be civilised. Be mercenary. “Sugar, Colin?” “Just milk.” “How’s work?” “Fine. Look Jack, let’s get this sorted.” Then it happened, the first phase of an unstoppable chain reaction. Following a ridiculously brief, matter of fact but amicable negotiation, we agreed a price for the house. Colin didn’t want a survey and wasn’t prepared to waste money on a solicitor either. He was a loony buyer and I really didn’t care why. He unzipped his purse and retrieved a monogrammed cheque book holder and inset fountain pen. “I’ll give you a deposit now.” “It’s fine, Colin, I trust you. We’re agreed. The house is yours.” Colin returned his neatly pressed cheque book to its place of safety and we shook hands to seal the contract. “Done,” he said. “Done,” I said. It didn’t feel legally binding in Disney slippers but a deal was a deal. “So where are you off to?” asked Colin. “Bodrum.” “Good God, Jack, Turkey? Y ou’re a homosexual. There aren’t any homosexuals in Turkey.” “My dear Colin, there are homosexuals everywhere. We’re like the Irish.”
Colin sipped his tea for inspiration. “You do know that Turkey’s a Muslim country?” “No shit?” His brain clanked and whirred like a Babbage prototype, spitting out a chain of increasingly infuriating questions, each designed to challenge our toxic choice of destination. “What’s wrong with Spain?” he said. “What’s wrong with Turkey?” I said. Colin was unyielding. I tried my well-rehearsed I love Turkey because homily. He listened impassively. It was a lost cause. “Y know what, Jack?” ou “What?” “It’s your funeral.” “Well thanks for the vote of confidence.” He smiled. “Y can rent the house until you leave.” ou There we had it. Mad Colin was definitely on something. Someone had popped a pill in his Lapsang Souchong. “Say that again, Colin.” “And I’m the one with the hearing aid.” “I could kiss you.” “Please don’t. I vote Conservative.” We sipped our tea and sat in uneasy silence. Colin’s eyes darted about to survey his new kingdom. He was off with the covetous fairies, muttering incoherently like a novice Buddhist at an inaugural Puja. Christ, the old boy was on the brink of a nervous breakdown. I could have my throat garrotted at any moment. He broke the peace. “I like your furniture.” “It likes you, too.” “I’ll buy it.” “Done.” With that, my very own fairy godfather made his excuses and scampered off into the cold East End air. Business was concluded. House and contents sold. I poured a stiff gin and
tonic, floated in to the lounge, collapsed onto the sofa and fiddled with my mobile phone. I should ring Liam. “Hello, hub. I’ve just sold the house to our psychotic neighbour No, . it’ fine, he paid in cash. Contract? Don’ be silly. Yes, you’re s t right; our world has just changed on the turn of an indecently short conversation with a lunatic.” I decided against the call. The house was perfectly still apart from the persistent clicking of a carriage clock on the mantelpiece. I looked around the room and said my goodbyes to the sofa and the sideboard, bequeathing them to Colin in my head. I guessed he wouldn’t want the signed picture of Tammy Wynette. I willed Liam home and befriended the Bombay Sapphire while I waited. Four glasses of mother’s ruin later, I snapped out of my trance and rushed to the phone to ring the estate agent. “Hi. It’s Jack Scott. I’ve decided not to sell. Sorry.” Liam shimmied into the lounge. “Guess what?” “Y ou’ve had the chop and changed your name to Bunty.” “Robbie’s agreed a deal on the house.” Liam threw off his jacket and sat down beside me. “Who needs the UN, eh? Eighteen months of arguments and recriminations, all settled with a quick phone call. He just caved in. Karma’s on our side, husband. Get your glad-drags on, we’re celebrating.” A drop of gin dribbled down my chin and gave the game away. “Oh my God, you’re shit-faced.” “Shut up, Liam. I’ve got something important to tell you.” “Don’t tell me, you’re pregnant.” Colin’s moment of madness changed everything. We were moving to Turkey. Our astonishing run of good luck convinced
us that someone was looking kindly down upon us. I sensed it was John, my very own guardian angel. Lapsed Catholic Liam attributed it to the Virgin Mary. “She always comes good in the end. We’re that close.” Weeks passed by with terrifying haste. Liam took up position as unpaid planning guru, devouring every relocation book on the market and organising our journey into the Byzantine world of Turkish red tape. He concocted a bells-andwhistles financial model and called it Bill. On the day he was born, Bill forecast a life of unfettered luxury and we toasted to our future with gay abandon. A week later, Bill convinced Liam that we were heading for certain penury. Bill, it seemed, was a fickle queen. Eventually, Liam and Bill came to grips with the vagaries of investments and currency exchange, and things started to look up. Turkish interest rates had soared to twenty per cent, providing an effortless, ready-made income. “We can definitely manage,” said Liam confidently, “and your redundancy payment makes all the difference to Bill’s bottom line.” “I don’t trust Bill’s bottom.” “He doesn’t like the look of yours much, either.” “So we’ll be okay?” “Y es.” “Are you sure this time?” “No.” My financial guru closed his laptop and squeezed my hand. “Y okay with this Jack? Y ou ou’re a big cheese. Y ou’ll miss the kudos.” “Mild middling cheddar, and I won’t. Can’t believe they paid me off though.” “They couldn’t wait to get rid of you. Y ou’ve been a liability for years.” In truth, the speed at which everything happened did throw me off balance. I had worked since the age of eighteen, dodging
further education by careering into my first full-time job as a shop boy on Chelsea’s trendy King’s Road. It was an easy way to earn an honest crust and pick up tricks on the side. Days on the tills and nights on the tiles were the best probation for a young gay man about town. After two carefree years, I swapped sales for security and got a proper job in local government with a pension attached. There was the rub: I was used to the filthy lucre. Jumping from cosy financial certainty to a life based on long term unemployment scared me half to death. I wasn’t the only one with doubts. Our plan attracted its fair share of dissenters, not least because of the Islamic angle. Most Muslim countries didn’t exactly have a commendable history of tolerance, and since I dropped out of the womb waving my jazz hands and screaming I Am What I Am, I could well be asking for trouble. “Well, I have no intention of stepping back into the closet,” I protested to the great, the good and the idle at my leaving do. They had gathered in a pretentious little Kensington wine bar to wave me off. The venue was the very latest place to see and be seen with hard perspex chairs, fake Rothko oils and stratospheric drink prices. “God knows why two openly gay men would want to live in a Muslim country,” I announced, “Particularly one with an unenviable reputation for military coups. There’s nothing for it. I shall insist that Liam wear a head scarf and walk three paces behind me at all times.” Enjoying the giggles from the attentive assembly, I launched into a self-indulgent, innuendo-laden, gay-man-abroad patter, concluding with “the Queen wears a head scarf and she’s not Muslim.” Later, as the crowd began to thin, I found a machine-aged brown Chesterfield sofa tucked away near the coat check and rang Liam. My swansong was done, my farewells said, and a thirty year career was over in an instant. As I waited for Liam, the slippery nipples hit their mark and I began to lose it. You
total tosser Jack. Jettisoned the job? Genius. Now what? The , archetypal male mid-life crisis? A stunning bestseller? How to end up in the gutter in three short months, by Jack the fucking pratt? Sozzled stragglers stumbled over for final goodbyes. “We’ll keep in touch,” they lied. “That was some speech; we’ll miss you, Jack; good luck with the Arabs; lucky bastard; think of us back at the coal face.” Y eah, right. Alcohol and anxiety made uncomfortable bedfellows, and I was desperate for Liam to rescue me from the doldrums. Right on cue, the indomitable optimist strolled into the bar, pecked me on the cheek and picked up my bags. “Y ou’d better sober up quickly, Jack. We’re booked on a morning flight to Bodrum.”
CHAPTER 3 - BACK TO THE FUTURE
“Fancy a kebab?” We’d just had breakfast. “Don’t be an idiot, Liam.” We had slipped the shackles of the waged and journeyed to Turkey in search of the perfect idyll to rest our work-weary bones. Bodrum itself was quickly ruled out: too hot, too busy and too damn expensive. We were sold on the idea of space to breathe and a room with a view; the frenetic town had neither within our price range. We spent a sticky week exploring the surrounding towns by dolmuş, the cute mini-buses that traversed the peninsula. We dubbed them ‘dollies’. Nowhere hit the right spot and time was running out. We placed our final bet on the small town of Y alıkavak, twenty kilometres northwest of Bodrum. It was high noon at Bodrum’s busy otogar (bus station) and the dollies scurried about the cracked tarmac like random ants. As usual, the modern day kervanseray was bursting with life: purveyors of rapid kebabs and sweet-baked simits, lemonscenting cut-throat barbers, pantaloon’d grannies on the make, weary country boys looking for work, sallow sightseers melting in the heat and tea-sipping cabbies dropping off in the midday sun. The place was a magnificent, chaotic and typically Turkish entrepôt. Liam had already begun his transformation into a bone fide plastic Turk. He stubbornly refused to let anything pass his lips unless it was authentic local fare and insisted on thanking every single waiter in dreadful pidgin Turkish. His waking moments were spent muttering in Turklish, pointing at random things in his line of sight, flicking through a dictionary and shouting out the Turkish equivalent like an excitable child on his first field trip. “Coffee, Kah-ve. Bus, Dol-mush. Bus station, Ot-o-gar .” “Marvellous, Liam. Now, give it a rest.” “Tam-am.” Liam grinned. Tamam – ‘okay’ – was his
definitive response to absolutely everything. He loved the otogar and would have stayed there all day, drinking Black Sea tea, talking to the trees and watching the madding crowd. We beat a path through the raucous melée to an empty dolly with an acrylic Y alıkavak sign hanging from the windscreen. We sat at the back and waited for the bus to fill. The inside was sweltering and relieved only by a begrudging breeze slipping through the sliding windows. An old lady weighed down by capacious plastic bags bursting with mandarins, tomatoes and aubergines, laboured aboard. The old dear’s haggard face was criss-crossed with deep-trenched furrows, bronzed by the sun and fringed by a red and yellow floral headscarf. A crocheted cardigan enveloped her tiny body, stretching like fishing net across her arched torso. Apart from us, the bus was empty and she had her pick of the seats. The choice seemed to overwhelm her. She scanned the dolly, gesticulated at the driver and shouted something indecipherable in our direction. Liam smiled apologetically and frantically thumbed through his useless dictionary. “What’s she saying?” I whispered. “‘Does my bum look big in these?’” “Just keep on smiling, maybe she’ll go away.” One by one, an eclectic mix of characters scrambled onto the bus, each adding an extra layer of colour: pink-skinned day trippers in hats and strappy tops; local likely lads in cheap jeans and gravity-defying hair held aloft by vats of gel, and beefy hillbillies in need of a bath. It was a heady blend that left us in no doubt that Europe was a long way off. Colin was right. It wasn’t Spain. The dolly scurried out of town and joined the main arterial highway, an uninspiring road lined with commercial developments reminiscent of a sun-drenched London North Circular. Feeling like the Sunday roast slowly cooking in a fan assisted oven, we rushed past a hotchpotch of flashy ultramodern furniture showrooms, out-of-town hypermarkets,
ramshackle builder’s yards and an endless number of shanty lokantalar serving soup, kebabs and pide, the delicious Turkish take on a pizza. Ten kilometres into our sweaty trek, we left the dual carriageway and ascended a gently winding road into brittle tinder-dry shrubby hills burned brown by the staunch summer sun. This was more like it. The over-laden bus struggled up the hill and joined a long convoy of slow moving heavy vehicles toiling towards a high col framed by tumble-down windmills. As we breached the brow of the hill, we caught our first picture postcard glimpse of Y alıkavak shimmering at the end of a lush valley below like randomly scattered sugar cubes on an overgrown lawn. An expectant mother hailed the bus from the dusty roadside and waddled aboard. Liam leapt up and offered his seat. She dropped like a dead weight next to me, retrieved two onions from a tatty sackcloth bag and handed one to me. Assuming this to be a standard act of kindness, I smiled, accepted the onion and placed it in my man-bag. Without a word, my hormonal friend took out a rusty paring knife, peeled her onion, quartered it and started to eat. Out of duty and cultural sensitivity, I contemplated doing the same but quickly thought better of it. You may want to reek of raw onion, my love, but I most certainly don’ For the t. remainder of the journey, she chewed on her onion and belched every time the dolly driver applied the brakes. Liam became a reluctant clippy, passing cash to the driver and returning change to the punters. Eventually, he wedged into a space at the middle of the bus in between a lemon-scented shiny suit and a pallet of stinking eels. Ten minutes later, we jumped off the dolly at Y alıkavak Otogar and followed the crowd towards the centre of the lazy white-washed town. The pretty pedestrianised high street was shadowed from the sun by huge, fluttering, white, triangular awnings. We sauntered past yellow-stone craft shops and postcard vendors and headed aimlessly towards the harbour, a relaxed affair crammed with two-masted wooden gulets. A
cobbled promenade ran the length of the slim but well-groomed beach, a grit and sand concoction edged with low-rise hotels and an assortment of cute restaurants. After the hassle and bustle of Bodrum, the informal tranquillity of Y alıkavak was a hypnotic indulgence. The place was ideal and we knew it. We rested at a smart but unassuming beachside bar, watched the world stroll idly by, sipped ice-cold beers and sported manic perma-grins. Liam rescued a battered copy of The Rough Guide to Turkey from his bag and thumbed through the torn and sunbleached pages. “Oh dear.” “What?” “It describes this place as relentlessly gentrified.” “Perfect,” I said. “Fancy another?” We returned to Y alıkavak the next day to meet a British estate agent Liam had stumbled across on the Internet. The emlakçı had promised a choice selection of rental properties, all within ten minutes of the town and all with the obligatory pool. Lorraine from Bodrum Turkish Delights picked us up at the village otogar and was a sight to behold. A striking thirtysomething woman, she lacked in stature what she made up for in tarty-chic. Her crowning glory was a huge pair of fake gold-hinged Gucci sunglasses wedged hard inside a thick tongteased auburn bob. The trashy brash package came with an easy Scottish charm. “Welcome to Turkey, boys. Hop in.” We jumped into the Mercedes sports sedan and the gaudy Lorraine launched into an intense what brings you to Turkey inquisition. “Retiring so young? Ach, aren’t we lucky wee lambs?” Lorraine talked ten to the dozen and broke into frenzied bouts of laughter for no apparent reason. When she laughed, her Carly Simon mouth split her face right in two. In between monologues Lorraine showed us some apartments to suit our
‘disappointing’ budget, none of them quite hitting the mark. Her final selection, a cracked concrete bunker three hundred metres up a huge barren boulder wasn’t exactly what we had in mind. The beach hut in Bognor was starting to look appealing. “Y don’t like it, do you?” said Lorraine ou “No,” I said, “we don’t like it.” “It’s cheap.” “Figures.” Liam lit a cigarette and walked back to the car. “I’ve got it,” said Lorraine. “I know the perfect place.” “Is it cheap?” I said. “No.” “We’ll take it.” Our enthusiastic emlakçı waltzed off to make a hurried phone call, cackling down her mobile and nodding furiously like an epileptic hen. Transaction complete, she returned to the car, pouted into the vanity mirror and refreshed her bee-stung lips with luminous crimson lippy. “That’s settled, boys. We’re meeting Clement, a dear friend of mine. Y ou’ll like him. He’s just like you.” “Handsome?” I said. “Spectacularly talented?” “Desperate and homeless?” suggested Liam. “Put it this way,” Lorraine said. “He’s rather obsessed with show tunes, especially Lloyd Webber.” Liam was losing patience. “He has an apartment?” “No.” “Then…” “Y ou’ll see. And wait ‘til you meet Mr Misto.” “Mr Misto?” “Aye, his live-in ‘friend’. They’re inseparable.” “Oh?” Lorraine was bursting to spill the beans and spluttered out the headlines. “Misto’s a wee black laddie. Something of the night about him. Clement’s besotted.”
We stopped at the foot of a steep and crumbling cement lane leading up to six tiered rows of detached houses. “We’re going up there,” said Lorraine. “Not sure the car will make it, we may have to walk.” “Not in those heels,” I said. Lorraine roared with laughter, throwing her head so far back, her sunglasses flew off. She jammed the car into low gear and skilfully manoeuvred us up the three levels to Clement’s place. This was Tepe Heights, twenty-six two-storey villas, broad, squat dwellings, semi-clad in toffee-coloured Bodrum stone and fronted by huge picture windows. Each villa perched its backside on the level above as if taking a rest from the heat. With the sickly sweet aroma of Intimately Beckham wafting in the afternoon sun, Clement’s door swung open and we got our first sight of Lorraine’s mysterious friend. He was a short, bald, slightly-built elderly man with a small round face dominated by huge bulbous eyes. A white linen smock and crushed baggy khaki shorts swamped his miniature frame and gold-rimmed reading glasses hung from a chain about his neck. An ebonyblack skin-and-bone cat was perched on his shoulder, its blazing gold eyes fixed hard on the new visitors. “Welcome, welcome! No kissing, chaps. Clement hasn’t douched today.” The freaky familiar leapt to the floor and took guard in front of his pint-sized master, curling his tail around Clement’s leg. All that was missing was a crash of thunder, forked lightning and a splat of ectoplasm. “Well say hello to your guests, Mr Mistoffelees, don’t be shy.” “So that’s Misto,” I whispered to Liam. “How disappointing.” “How grotesque.” With a swish of his invisible fairy wand, the diminutive Clement waved us into his radiant whitewashed open-plan
reception room. A stylish oak kitchen was fitted at one end and a marble-clad fireplace at the other. We gazed up and scanned the double-height space and the elegant galleried walkway leading to a gargantuan upper balcony. Clement gave us tea and the grand tour. His home was enormous compared to my little Victorian house and Clement had done it up with flair. His taste in décor was very IKEA/Habitat/Heals (delete according to budget), a simple white canvas, accented with patchy flashes of primary colour. Liam was uncomfortable. “He’s a bit odd, don’t you think? Gay Gollum meets the Queen Mother. And that scrawny cat looks positively evil.” Once we had seen the sumptuously appointed show home, Lorraine ushered us to a vacant house on the next level down. She could smell a deal even though the rent demolished our budget. Liam and I momentarily gazed at one another, perfecting the telepathy that was to become a vital tool in our expat survival box. We unceremoniously tossed aside our rental budget like a used dish cloth. The detached villa with an uncluttered view of the Aegean had utterly seduced us. Before long, we had met the landlord, sealed the deal and agreed Lorraine’s commission. Tepe Heights was to be our new home and we flew back to London to pack.
CHAPTER 4 - INDIAN SUMMER
On the day of our emigration, Maurice insisted on accompanying us to Gatwick. My London life friend was an engineer, a little unusual among the brethren. We sorely needed his well-honed logistical skills and considerable brawn to help transport our four oversized suitcases and a large collection of assorted travel bags. Unsurprisingly, we were way over our luggage allowance. Maurice, a man of polite determination, flashed his come-to-bed eyes, chatted engagingly to the check-in assistant and managed to get most of the excess charges waived. She seemed mildly amused by the London boys embarking on the Grand Tour like Victorian gentry in flip flops and matching Louis Vuittons. Predictably, Gatwick security was total bedlam and queues snaked right around the terminal building. As our departure time crept dangerously near, a burly airport official clutching a screeching walkie-talkie fast-tracked us to the oh-shitthey’re-gonna-miss-their-flight entrance. We hurriedly said our goodbyes to Maurice and the engineer cried. It broke my heart. The magnitude of our decision became crystal clear and the cocktail of mixed emotions made me feel sick. I waved, but Maurice was already walking away. When he was almost out of sight, Maurice turned back, forced a smile and mouthed “I love you.” It dawned on me there and then that we had embarked on a life change of seismic proportions. We lay awake for hours, trying to take in the magnitude of our decision and supplying mutual assurance that we had done the right thing. Liam tittered when the sound of raucous roosters filtered into the room just after midnight. He searched in vain for something funny to say about faulty alarm cocks and then fell silent, mesmerized by the strains of the nearby Arabesque disco-beat.
We awoke early to dazzling sunshine streaming through the cotton clad windows. We were renting an apartment from one of Lorraine’s contacts before filling our new home on the hill. The Cheshire cats had got all the cream and couldn’t stop grinning. We spent a leisurely November morning unpacking and surveying our temporary home like excited vacationers, fiddling with various knobs, testing drawers and scrutinising cupboards. Our fun was rudely interrupted by intolerant rapping at the door. Liam fumbled with the unfamiliar lock like a postclub junkie, rehearsing Turklish under his breath. “Mer-ha—” “Jack?” “Almost. Liam. And you are?” “Chrissy, my love. Y landlady.” our “Oh. Right.” “May I?” Chrissy bounced into the apartment with her obedient husband bringing up the rear. Our pushy proprietress was a large rugby ball kind of gal, fat thighs and thick-set ankles poking out from a glut of gut. A low-cut orange lycra top did its best to contain the excess and stretch jeans struggled valiantly with the lower half. Her podgy spray-tanned face was slapped up like a second-hand drag queen and crowned by a blond frizzy perm. For a plain woman in her mid-twenties, Chrissy had remarkable confidence. “Sleep alright? Bloody mozzies. Can’t stand ‘em. I’m allergic. So’s Bernard. Get this heat, I’m melting. Well, say ‘hello’ Bernard!” For some reason known only to herself, Chrissy was shouting like a coked up coxswain. I scanned her husband for a hearing-aid. Bernard greeted us with a sexuality-affirming handshake, masking his nervousness with the kind of bravado only straight men can muster. Why so many hettie boys think they’re irresistible to the friends of Dorothy has always been a complete mystery to me, particularly when they’ve got
the sexual magnetism of a discarded house brick. The old brick spoke. “I was born in Indiyar,” he said with a hard South African twang. “Oh,” said Liam. “Fancy that.” “I’ve never met an old colonial before,” I said. ”How very Jewel in the Crown.” “After independence we settled in South Africa. Grew up in Cape Town. Moved to England after they let that Mandela fella out.” I searched for common ground. “I spent my childhood in Malaysiyar.” He looked at me vacantly. I tried again. “My father was in the Army.” Nothing. Chrissy glared at her husband, willing him to say something, anything. Bernard remained frozen and I concluded that the colonial connection was the only interesting thing about him. Liam beckoned our unexpected guests out to the balcony and went to make tea while I attempted to entertain them. Bernard was a tall, painfully thin man, much older than Chrissy, perhaps in his mid-sixties. The passage of time had been cruel. The old boy was a lanky stick insect with a small-bowled belly like a large pea wedged halfway down a straw. What was left of his thinning hair had been dyed jet black and swept back to compensate for the lack of it. He wore a navy-blue synthetic track suit fetchingly set off by a pair of immaculate white training shoes. A tangerine tan outshone Chrissy’s vibrant complexion. Its unusual hue and intensity rounded off the dashing Berlusconi-in-a-shell-suit look. Bernard was the kind of man who would always stand out in the crowd, for all the wrong reasons. Chrissy got our number straight away and this appeared to thrill her no end. While the tea brewed and with very little prompting, she and Bernard became the first of many to tell us their sorry tale. Before they migrated to Turkey, Chrissy
had worked as a Lancôme beauty-care manager, overseeing the important goings on at a make-up counter in Cardiff. Apparently, she broke the House of Fraser record for her sales of Juicy-Tube Lip Gloss, an achievement she was immensely proud of. Quite rightly, I presumed. “I got a certificate signed by the area manager and an allexpenses paid weekend to Paris,” she said. It was in a Parisian hotel that she’d met Bernard. He was relaxing after a hard day at a conference jolly and spotted her at the bar tonguing the maraschino cherry she’d plucked from her Daiquiri. Bernard had been a fat cat for some awfully important French investment firm. He was a hire-and-fire man and specialised in the latter. Bernard was instantly captivated by the nineteen-year-old vision, wasted no time slipping his ring on her finger, retired from work and snapped up a newbuild mock-Tudor love nest in South Wales. “They begged me to stay and offered to double my salary,” Bernard explained, relieved to be back in his comfort zone. “I told them where to stick it. Naturally, the company went tits up after I left.” “They were lost without him,” said Chrissy. “Completely lost.” “Lost?” said Bernard. “They had no fucking balls. Spineless French bastards.” “Well, isn’t that nice?” Liam shouted from the kitchen. As the tea was served, Chrissy continued the fascinating chronicle of their Tristan and Isolde love affair, pinching Bernard if he attempted to butt in and insisting that she’d been attracted to Bernard’s maturity, not his fat wallet or enormous investment portfolio. She and Bernard both hailed from failed marriages. Chrissy wed a hod carrier from Port Talbot. The marriage lasted a year. Bernard’s wife left him after forty years and moved in with Sandra, a prison guard from Holloway Nick. Bored with wet Wales, they sold up, dropped off their fractured
pasts at left luggage and started life anew. They now lived in a large hill-top villa built for them by a “useless” Turkish builder. We were lucky, apparently, to get a few weeks in their marvellous nest-egg apartment. People were queuing up. Liam floated in and out, feigning interest with the occasional “Y don’t say?” before clearing the table and throwing me a ou determined get-rid-of-them look. “Well, it’s been so nice getting to know you,” I said. Chrissy took the hint and kicked Bernard in the shin. “Oh, my loves, you have so much to do! We should go. Shift your arse, Bernard. Maybe we’ll come and see you in the new house?” “That would be lovely,” I said. “Tamam,” said Liam. “Tamam.” That afternoon, we semi-adopted a ginger feral kitten, called her Marina and kept her fed and watered. As a reward for our benevolence she defecated in our flip-flops. That day and every day for a week, we wandered up to Tepe Heights in shorts and disinfected footwear to measure up and wipe down, dragging with us an assortment of mops, buckets, rubber gloves and other charring essentials. An old tatty radio quickly became Liam’s prized possession as he moved from room to room imitating Turkish DJs. He requisitioned a battered broom as a makeshift microphone and repeated words at random as if learning by rote. “Mare-harb-aa.! E-vet, shim-di, Ki-lee Min-ogue. Chok Gazelle.” His boisterous efforts to master the local lingo grabbed the attention of Clement, who regularly crept onto his terrace to glance down on the impromptu cabaret. On the third day, Clement broke into spontaneous applause and rewarded Liam with a small supply of logs. “The weather’s on the turn. I thought the wood might come in handy to warm your evening labours.”
Liam accepted the gift reluctantly, fearing the transaction might somehow encourage a deeper connection. We received word that our cargo had arrived from England. We were thrilled. A gay boy just can’t survive without the little essentials of life: decent cookware, ethnic knick-knacks and gallons of over-priced scent. A rude little man from the servicewith-a-smile agents rang our newly acquired mobile phone at 4am. Liam had set the ring-tone to a dreadful version of the Turkish National Anthem and the tinny Stalinesque sound of the Istiklâl Marsı jolted Marina from her cat-nap. It also prompted her to leave a (presumably) involuntary gift on our rented duvet. The little man told us in no uncertain terms to get to Izmir Airport and get there pronto to avoid warehousing fees. “Big lira. Understand? Big lira!” We left before daybreak to make the three hour crosscountry drive to the Customs House at Izmir Airport. For two of those hours, Liam struggled to find full-beam in the hire car. He was more preoccupied with the car radio, scanning stations to find an authentic Ottoman soundtrack to our dark ascent into the winding roads around Lake Bafa. Farmers and other earlyto-rise locals watched in bewilderment as the car snaked its way through the night, lit only by two twinkling side lights and piloted by a foreigner wailing in Turklish through the open windows. By sunrise, Liam had mastered the lighting controls. He left them on for the hell of it. We travelled on, speeding across the misty Meander River flood plain, breezing through jobbing agro-villages, weaving past chugging tractors and waving at dentureless elders, all of them hospitable, gummygrinned and curious. Izmir was in the full swing of a feverish rush hour. We baffled through the maze of un-signposted roads and found the rude little man waiting for us in the shabby Customs House car park. A chubby dusky youth in a Seventies’ bell-bottomed suit,
he had the kind of face that could never quite find the smile position. He barked at the new arrivals. “Mr Jack? Y ou’re late! Come! Only you.” He hurried me through the door of the Customs House leaving Liam to mingle with a burly gang of overalled workers kicking their heels outside. The rude little man dragged me through the labyrinthine building, ferrying me around various offices to pay various official fees to various sullen officials, obtaining various bits of official paper, all of them officially stamped along the way by various petty autocrats. The staggeringly inefficient and pointless complexity of Turkish red tape was demonstrated in all its glory. Within the hour there were enough copies of my British passport in circulation to supply MOSSAD for years. The rude little man deposited me in a holding pen and wandered off, nonchalantly returning every now and again to demand more cash. I sat there for an hour without so much as a cup of tea for solace, observing the humdrum drama that played out around me. My place of confinement was bleak and starkly furnished. Lonely electric wires dangled aimlessly from the cracked ceiling and an ancient typewriter sat neglected in the corner. Next to me was a glass-fronted office where five or six petty bureaucrats sat working at their desks. I use the word ‘working’ euphemistically. All I witnessed was gossiping, tea brewing, smoking and reading of newspapers, periodically interrupted by someone or other waving a piece of paper in need of an official stamp. I concluded that stamps must be very big in Turkey. Eventually, the Seventies’ suit returned and the waiting was over. “Y evet!” es, The rude little man hauled me to the depot for my goods to be scrutinised by a rude little customs officer – a squat girl in a black paramilitary uniform, she didn’t seem much bothered and only inspected the top layer of one crate, though much hilarity was generated by my embarrassing and doomed attempt to mime the function of a terracotta patio heater. At last, and after
several minutes of frantic arm waving and yet more signatures, I got the last official stamp and the family silver was released. Liam had convinced himself that I’d been carted off to prison in a Midnight Express kind of way and was relieved to see me emerge from the Customs House smiling and unsullied. We returned to the car and journeyed south, unable to resist a cultural detour to Priene. I read aloud from a dog-eared guidebook. “‘Built on a natural escarpment high above the Meander flood plain, Priene is the most complete Hellenistic site in Turkey. Priene seduces with its intimacy and stunning aspect.’” Liam covered his mouth to disguise a yawn. “Y don’t ou say?” The site was mercifully deserted and we walked hand-inhand for the first time since our exodus. Liam scrambled over the scattered stones and spotted a goat sitting in the shade of a knarled olive tree as ancient as the ruins themselves. Liam being Liam, he decided to initiate his first ever conversation in goat-ese. The poor animal endured the strange discourse with indulgent bewilderment and the surreal conversation concluded with a series of polite ‘baaahs’ from both parties. “A handsome old goat,” said Liam. I smiled. “Seems friendly?” “Y eah. His name’s Bayram.” “Of course it is.” Liam breathed into Bayram’s ear and Bayram shook his bearded head. Jesus, I’d married a goat whisperer. Liam smiled and took me by the hand. “Jack, do you think we’ll make friends?” “Dunno. Do we want to?” “I’m not sure the odd goat will stimulate us forever.” “Seems to work for the locals.” We stood in silence until the sun set over the ruins and bathed the stones in a soft orange light. Bayram wandered off into the scrubland and I sat on an ancient wall to watch my
semi-deranged husband bid farewell to his new best friend. His tall handsome lines looked fine against the fading sun and I was suddenly glad he had chosen me.
CHAPTER 5 - LA CRÈME DE LA CRÈME
Weighed down by heavy suitcases and boxes of groceries, the under-powered hire car valiantly fought to scale the north face of Mount Tepe. Ascension required an ultra-low gear, iron grip tyres and nerves of steel. As he drove, Liam kept his eyes firmly shut. I walked up on foot as the smell of burning rubber filled the air. We were greeted at base camp by a muscular man with rough shovel hands, a life of hard labour etched deeply into a florid face. This was our resident kapıcı, our caretaker, Tariq the Toothless. We mumbled something in Turklish, shared a cigarette and pointed at the magnificent view. Tariq was more interested in his new residents and stared at us with uncomfortable concentration, unable to fathom our status, relationship or intention. We must have seemed like creatures from another planet. “Kardes?” He looked at me and pointed at Liam. “He’s asking if we’re brothers,” said Liam. “Just nod. He’ll find out soon enough.” We arrived at the house just in time to rendezvous with a large truck delivering our pre-ordered IKEA house pack. Their no-nonsense ascent put Liam’s wimpish efforts to shame. A gang of boys in matching vests jumped out and began to unpack and assemble. While they worked, we chain smoked, made tea and avoided Clement. Four hours later, our room sets were ready to be dressed and accessorised. As the IKEA crew reversed down Mount Tepe, the phone rang. “That’ll be Chrissy expecting an invite over,” said Liam. “Tell her I’m dead.” “Hello Chrissy. Jack says he’s dead.” Several sun-blessed days of happy home-making passed
without interruption. We took time to explore our immediate surroundings, wandering up and down Mount Tepe, snooping around the other villas and peering through the windows. Most of them were unoccupied. “Either that,” said Liam, “or the inhabitants have croaked it from boredom and the en-suites are stuffed with rotting corpses.” “This isn’t Midsomer, Liam. We’re out of season, that’s all.” Liam wasn’t convinced and continued to play detective for days. A week later, we discovered a tatty shop at the foot of the hill, a small outfit run by three handsome brothers. Each of the Pretty Boys was blessed with the squarest of chins, the strongest of jaws and the thickest of curly mops. Each had a physique to rival Hugh Jackman on steroids. Each spoke with a voice so mellifluous and dreamy that we could only stay in the shop for short periods without feeling weak at the knees. On his third visit, Liam introduced himself to the eldest of the unbearably handsome Samsons. “Ben Liam.” “Memnun oldum, Liam. Nice to meet you.” “Y ou?” “Us?” “Y have names?” asked Liam. ou “Y we have names.” es, “What are they?” “Just ask for Tepe Market boys.” ‘Y don’t have first names?” ou “Y we have first names.” es, ‘So, my name is Liam…” “I know. Y like my onions? Or maybe you want ou my milk?”
The disarmingly attractive trio never did divulge any information about themselves and seemed to revel flirtatiously in their anonymity. We didn’t particularly mind and even when the shelves were sparsely stocked we were more than happy with their friendly, personalised service. They kept us constantly supplied with American cigarettes and emergency wine. For a small cover charge, they also home-delivered twenty litre barrels of drinking water, effortlessly hauling the heavy load up Mount Tepe on a single shoulder. Our only other distraction was Tariq, an all-in-one gardener, landscaper, sweeper, postman and chain-smoker, easily identifiable by the cigarette permanently dangling from his mouth and the elongated arched barrel of ash always about to fall to the ground. He would smile occasionally, point at the sky, shout something unintelligible but generally gave us the space and time to do what gay boys do when they set up home: shop, argue about where to place the designer cushions and get drunk. “Not there, more to the right.” Liam groaned and pretended to drop the vase. “Don’t piss about.” “Does it really matter?” “Of course it matters. There comes a time in every gay boy’s life when he needs to step up to the plate. Let’s give a certain little lady a splash of homo panache.” “Chrissy? Waste of time. I suspect she has a rather different take on panache.” Undeterred, we dressed, pressed, arranged and embellished for days. The final touch was the official hanging of the Lady of the House. Our treasured Matisse print had never looked better, despite her long journey from the grey skies of Walthamstow. She looked on enigmatically as we clinked champagne glasses and congratulated each other on our self-proclaimed good taste.
“Well, we’ve done it,” I said. “We live in Turkey. And look at that view.” Liam laughed. “Something’s about to spoil it, mein Herr .” Right on cue, Chrissy turned up to check on progress. Actually, it was more like a military inspection, and we dutifully stood by our proverbial beds. The painted Welsh dragon nodded approval as she wandered through each room. “Amazing what you can do with IKEA,” she said. “Simply amazing.” Liam recoiled. “Patronising bi…” “The store of choice for the middle class poor everywhere,” I interrupted. Chrissy wasn’t listening and rushed upstairs to scrutinise the bedrooms. We left her to it. She let out an ear-splitting scream. “Maybe she looked in a mirror,” said Liam. We hurried upstairs and found Chrissy standing in the middle of our bedroom, palms pressed to her plump cheeks in exaggerated horror. “Looks serious,” said Liam. “Guess we’ve fucked up the feng shui.” “Whatever’s the matter?” I asked. “Where are the bedside tables?” said Chrissy. “That’s why you screamed?” “Everyone has them.” Liam sat on the bed and buried his face in his hands. “What shall we do? What shall we do?” “We’re not everyone, Chrissy,” I said. Chrissy glared at Liam and opted for a change of subject. “Y should secure the services of a cleaner. It’s so good ou for local employment.” “Really?” I said. “Not had one of those since my days in the Far East.”
“Did Bernard have one in South Africar?” asked Liam. The sarcasm hung uncomfortably in the air but Chrissy refused to bite. “Y ou’ve made a good start, boys. Well done.” “Why thank you, Missy Chrissy,” said Liam. “When will you buy your car? Bernard will help.” “We don’t need one,” said Liam. “I see.” Chrissy’s boys weren’t playing by the rules. “Y ou’ll learn,” she said. “Y ou’ll change your mind within the week.” “Don’t bet on it, dearie.” Liam’s whispering had reached audible levels. Ms Borgia sensed our disquiet and decided to end the interrogation. “Must be off boys, you do understand. Come round for supper, okay? Bernard’s a superb cook. Bye, boys. See you at Clement’s.” The click-clack of Chrissy’s heeled sandals echoed down the hallway and we waited for the door to slam. “What’s she mean, see you at Clement’s?” said Liam. “Dunno but thank fuck she’s gone.” Liam, who was inexplicably drawn to ballsy, troubled women, was a little more conciliatory. “We were a bit cruel. She’s not that bad.” “She’s a bloody nightmare.” We sat cross legged on the terrace, looking out to sea and hugging mugs of Nescafé. Tariq appeared at the end of the drive. “Rubbeesh?” Rubbish was Tariq’s only English word and he said it often and with pride. We rewarded him with a Marlboro Light and he strolled off down the hill, fag in one hand and three bags of rattling rubbish in the other. Tariq was a regular and efficient
garbage disposer and we were eternally grateful. “That’s a shit load of empty wine bottles, Jack. What must he think?” “Hell, who cares. And why does he keep staring at us?” “He’s trying to work out who’s Arthur and who’s Martha. Talking of which…” Clement was waving from his terrace. “Afternoon, chaps,” he shouted across. “I see you’ve had a visitor?” “More like an inspector,” I said. “Do come for tea. I’ll pop the kettle on and warm the pot. Ten minutes?” “Say no!” said Liam. “Thanks, Clement,” I said. “That would be lovely.” We took tea in the ‘salon’ as Clement called his open plan living room, all china cups and sterling silver spoons. I was thinking unkind thoughts. Here was Clement, a queen of the old school, displaying an air of conservative respectability by day and mounted by the valet after dark. As Clement served tea, the menacing Mr Mistoffelees silently weaved in and out of his legs, brushing against his calves in a repeated, hypnotic cycle. “I’m having a few chums over for supper this evening. Come. Chrissy and Bernard will be there.” The invitation sent a visible shiver down my spine. I dropped the tongs. “That would be lovely, Clement, but we still have things to do.” “And nothing to wear,” said Liam. “Come as you are, chaps, come as you are. No need to stand on ceremony. It’s a very low key affair.” “Will Lorraine be there?” I asked. “Good God, no. Can’t stand the woman. Dreadful.”
“But, she said…” “Our relationship is purely professional.” “I see.” No doubt Clement had received a small ‘consideration’ for introducing us to the house. Maybe he was celebrating his unexpected windfall. Unable to excuse ourselves from the supper invite, we hurried back home, showered and downed a swift gin stiffener. Most of Clement’s guests had arrived by the time we ventured next door to join the supper soirée. We approached the house with trepidation. Neither of us relished the prospect of an evening with complete strangers and as new kids on the block we sensed an extra frisson to the occasion. A cordial Clement, primped and preened, led us like condemned lambs into the body of the kirk. There assembled was the congregation. “The gang,” whispered Clement, “la crème de la crème.” The room was delicately lit by virgin-white votive candles casting long flickering shadows on the walls of the salon. Mr Mistoffelees lay curled up in front of a blazing open fire that provided warming respite from the cool night air. Civilised subdued chatter was serenaded by classical easy listening. The supper scene set out before us was my vision of petit bourgeois hell. I wanted to flee. We grabbed a drink and bravely resolved to mingle. I occupied an empty seat on the terrace next to butch bra-less Brigit from Brisbane, whom I rashly assumed to be a lesbian. Maybe it was the navy-blue polo shirt, manly pants and sensible moccasin lace-ups that gave the game away. Or perhaps it was the crash helmet haircut. I threw myself into conversation and our chinwag seemed to trip along quite nicely. “Y have a girlfriend in Turkey?” I asked. ou
Brigit’s face froze. I looked for signs of life. Eventually her eyes began to roll, slowly at first and then with such speed I thought they might spin out of their sockets. Gradually, her features contorted into a position I had seen so many times before. The classic, well-practised and obviously faux, howvery-dare-you look. “Pommie poofter!” she spat. With that, butch Brigit thundered off into the house and ignored me for the rest of the evening. This was my first social gaffe of the evening, though in my defence it was an easy mistake to make. Liam came to my rescue. “What the hell did you say?” “I implied she drank from the furry cup.” “Tell me you didn’t.” “Well, if it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, it is a bloody duck.” My next social intervention met with much greater success. I sidled next to Charlotte, a vivacious, energetic brunette with a sun-kissed complexion and a bouncing cleavage that heaved in rhythm to her filthy laugh. We hit it off immediately. Botticelli Babe Charlotte and her tall debonair silver-haired husband were expat veterans, vetpats. Alan and Charlotte had sold up in England and built their dream home on a hill overlooking Y alıkavak. It was obvious we shared similar values and I sensed a friendship might develop. “So how did you two hook up?” enquired Charlotte. “Now there’s a story.” “I’m all ears, sweet pea.” “It was a gay pub near Trafalgar Square. Halfway to Heaven.” “Only halfway?” “We didn’t go all the way for weeks.” Charlotte shrieked, drawing the attention of the sedate
throng. “Liam took up pole position, perched on a bar stool like a hormonal cockatiel, preening himself every now and then in an imaginary mirror. He was every bit the suave business type – tailored suit, crisp white shirt and three buttons undone to tease the punters.” “A tart, you mean?” “Y a tart. The man was sex on a stool. I felt that instant es, rush of attraction.” “It’s the same with my George.” “George?” “Clooney.” I smiled. “The arrogant bugger let me dance around him for ages without so much as a ‘come hither’ for my trouble. In the end I thought ‘sod you’ and cut my losses. As I headed for the door he glanced up and threw me a broad smile.” “A goodbye smile? A sorry-you’re-leaving smile? A goodriddance-to-bad-rubbish smile?” “It turned out to be a can-I-buy-you-a-drink? smile. I had a double. The rest, as they say, is history.” “That’s just lovely, sweet pea. I met Alan when he came round to fix my dodgy boiler. He knows how to clear out a girl’s pipes, I can tell you.” We screamed. “What do you do, Jack? Can’t see you clearing out U-bends.” The mood turned sombre when I revealed thirty-five years of social care experience. Charlotte and Alan had tried for many years to have a child and had braved the agony of unsuccessful fertility treatment. “I long for a baby, at a cellular level. We can’t make it happen. We’ve tried so hard, Jack.” Charlotte melted into a bag of nerves and fought back the tears.
“I’m so sorry,” I said. “Really.” “Sweet of you. We still have hope. We’re adopting a baby in Turkey.” “That’s possible here?” “Sure. We’ve talked to the authorities.” I was surprised and thought Charlotte and Alan too old. I kept my thoughts to myself fearing another faux pas. She was steadfast and determined, and who was I to judge? Sensing our conversation had reached a natural conclusion I wished Charlotte well, made my excuses and went in search of a much needed refill. Charlotte’s best friend Hackney Nancy caught me on the way. “Orwight, my darlin’?” She patted the empty chair next to her. “Come sit by me.” Nancy was a lippy social worker, a shapely sassy lass dressed to impress with enormous breasts and a cavernous cleavage. A genuine Eastender of Cypriot extraction, Nancy spoke both English and Turkish with a Cockney drawl. I liked her instantly. She had abandoned a long loveless marriage for romance and orgasms and soon laid bare her tempestuous dalliance with a local skipper. Wedded Irfan had assembled a foreign flotilla of autumnal ladies vying for his favours. Nancy was the undisputed chief concubine, his Nell Gwyn to her improbable Charles the Second. Apparently, the old sea dog skilfully managed to keep all his romantic plates spinning without too many breakages. When double booked, the ensuing choppy waters only served to nurse his considerable ego. “So what’s he like, this paramour of yours?” “A giant of a man, in every department, if you get my drift.” “His wife knows?” “Y eah. Ee’s a Turk innee?” “And that’s okay with her?” “It’s expected.”
“And it’s okay with you?” “Don’t worry, darlin’. I know what I’m doin’.” Liam hovered in the background speaking mostly to Chrissy. She had ditched the clingy day-wear for a black empire line frock, clearly designed to disguise her egg-shape and emphasise her meagre assets. She dished the dirt on everyone in the room. “That Nancy’s been shagging a married village man for years. He’s gross, and I mean gross. I’d rather shag a corpse. A rotting corpse.” Bernard was by Chrissy’s side, looking splendid in a magenta shell suit and hanging on to her every word. Liam was already bored. He stared at Bernard’s hair. It was ridiculously black. He wondered if the collar matched the cuffs. “Everything okay, Liam?” “Sorry, Bernard, miles away.” “Y find me attractive, don’t you, Liam?” ou “No, Bernard, I don’t.” “It’s okay, don’t be embarrassed.” “I’m not.” “The gays always look at me, I’m used to it.” “Y Bernard, I’m sure you are. More hummus?” es “I don’t love the old sod, Jack, but the sex is mind blowing.” Nancy’s eyes sparkled with pleasure. She described what she called intense orgasmic bliss – a state which rendered her unable to speak or think straight. Or walk. She would only stay in Turkey for three weeks at a time; any more would be too risky. “My vagina couldn’t take it, darlin’.” I was uncharacteristically lost for words. “So you’re with the ‘andsome fella talking to Chrissy?”
asked Nancy. “Afraid so.” “Right charmer.” “Y noticed. Been round the block so many times they ou named the road after him.” “And you?” “Ah, they named the town after me.” “More wine, Chrissy?” asked Bernard. Chrissy dismissed her hapless husband with an abrupt wave of her speckled nail extensions. The scathing exposé continued. “And that Charlotte’s scouring the streets of Turkey like a woman possessed. She wants a baby, any baby; she’ll be lifting one from the Grand Bazaar before you know it. At her age, too. It’s embarrassing.” Liam listened passively, mesmerised by the vitriol. Chrissy was in full flow. “Y would think… Frig me backwards, look who’s ou arrived. Now let me tell you…” Nancy snuggled up to me and slipped her hand under my arm. “My son’s gay.” “Okay. That’s alright?” “Course. Love him to bits. Works for British Airways.” “Trolley dolly?” “Bullseye. How did ya guess?” “It’s in the job description, Nancy. Hairdressers, Tory MPs, Colombian waiters…” Chrissy’s eyes tracked the new arrival as she entered the room. Susan was a real stunner, a pretty fifty-something Fulham girl with English rose-tinted cheeks and long blonde locks. Bedecked in a fabulous floaty frock hemmed in gold embroidery and accessorised with white strappy sandals and
an extravagant medley of clanking gold bangles, Susan had clearly been ravishing in her youth. She marched in confidently, hand in hand with her Y ankee husband. Chuck was a striking well-built older man with fading tattoos and a deep tan that accentuated his bright white hair and warm blue eyes. Chrissy revelled in telling every last detail of their tale. Feisty and independent, Susan ran away to Istanbul in her teens where she met and married an academic many years her senior. The alliance ended in divorce but produced a gorgeous daughter. Susan then sailed for the New World, settled in LA, ran a coffee shop and developed a curious mid-Atlantic accent. Her second marriage was to an American Turk but that too ended in divorce. One fateful day, Chuck and Susan’s eyes met across the Gaggia coffee maker. They fell in love and married. “Need to squeeze me lemon,” said Nancy. “Won’t be a tick.” Susan approached and fell into the empty seat next to me. “Y must be Liam.” ou “Jack. The mouthy one.” “Delighted. I’m Susan. Meet Chuck.” Chuck had sailed through the Swinging Sixties on a sea of alcohol, narcotics and loose women. Despite (or perhaps because of) his colourful past, he’d become a reformed character and virtually tee-total. In many ways, Chuck was as striking as his wife and his chequered youth perfectly matched his Seventies’ porn star looks. “So how do you like it here, Chuck?” “Here’s the thing, Jack. I love Susan and Susan loves Turkey. We live in a village and our neighbours are peasants. They dump their crap everywhere and scream day and night.” “Oh.” “If I had a gun I’d shoot the lot of ‘em.” He winked. “That’s the American way.” I could tell that he and Susan were a cut above. Despite many pretenders to the throne, Susan was truly
the queen bee in the village and Chuck her contented consort. Chrissy had met her match. Alan’s mobile phone rang. Chrissy stopped in mid-sentence, looked at Liam, looked at Alan, narrowed her eyes and leaned forward on her stool, straining to make sense of the one sided conversation. “Tonight? Where?” Chrissy edged closer and toppled off her perch, overturning a plate of baklava and a glass of red wine. “Fuck.” Clement leapt to the rescue and mopped up the mess. Chrissy crept closer to Alan. “Got it,” said Alan. “Y eah. No worries. Bye.” The blood drained from Alan’s face and he rushed out to Charlotte who had been joined by Nancy on the terrace. Chrissy shouted after him. “Everything okay, dear?” “Fine, Chrissy. Be a good girl and shut that mouth. There’s a terrible draught.” Alan helped Charlotte gather her things. “I’ll explain in the car.” Charlotte and Nancy scrambled into the hushed salon and hurriedly said their goodbyes, barely containing their bounding busts in situ. Nancy fell off her stilettos as she ran, throwing them to Charlotte before dashing out to the revving car. The vehicle sped down Mount Tepe leaving a trail of dust in its wake. I looked around. None of the gang seemed in the least bit surprised by the melodrama and conversation reverted to polite normality. Mr Mistoffelees yawned. After another hour or so we made our excuses and withdrew to our own patio for a final shandy and a debrief. All things considered, we had survived the ordeal relatively unscathed. “What was all that about?” asked Liam. “Alan and Charlotte? Haven’t a clue.” We looked across at Clement’s villa.
“Strange lot,” I said. “Are we the right sort?” “We’re not talking Monte Carlo,” said Liam. He smiled. “Y shouldn’t have outed the Aussie girl. What were you ou thinking?” “I know, I know.” I heard the sound of another closest door slamming shut in my head. We sat outside for hours, contemplating our first few weeks in Turkey. The stage was set and the cast well and truly assembled. Had we made it through the first act without fluffing too many of our lines? More to the point, was this disparate group of people, thrown together purely by chance, really our sort? It was a good question and one that was to resound for months to come. We watched the last of Clement’s drunken guests stagger to their cars and disappear down the drive. Clement pumped up the volume and the distinctive nasal timbres of Elaine Paige’s Memory reverberated across Tepe Heights. As the bright moon looked on, we chinked glasses and drank ourselves into happy oblivion.
PANSYPENDIX 1 - EXPAT GLOSSARY
Expatriates, like everyone else, come in all shapes and sizes – the mean and the mannered, the classless and the classy, the awful and the joyful. The abbreviated epithet ‘expat’ doesn’t adequately express the myriad folk who have chosen to live here in Turkey. I have coined or purloined a few expressions to add spice to the mix.
Retirees serving out their twilight years in the sun, most of whom seem to be just a little to the right of Genghis Khan. Many have bought a jerry built white box in Turkey because it was cheaper than Spain (well, it was at the time). Everyday emigrey life operates within a parallel universe of neo-colonial separateness preoccupied with visa hops to the Isles of Greece, pork products, property prices and Blighty bashing.
VOMITs (Victims of Men in Turkey)
Vintage desperate ex-housewives with a few lira to spare, who shamelessly chase younger Turkish men. Predictably, such relationships rarely last once the money runs out. A sub-genus of the species is the MAD (“My Ahmed’s Different”): delusional VOMITs who think their Turkish man is somehow unlike the rest because “he really loves me.” As a rule of thumb, they are kidding themselves.
Those too young to retire in the conventional sense, and who are living the vida loca on the proceeds of property sales from the boom years. Plunging interest rates present quite a fiscal test
to those trying to maintain a hedonistic lifestyle on dwindling assets while waiting for the pensions to kick in; assuming there will be a pension to kick in, of course.
V eterans who have lived in Turkey for many years. Usually better informed than their peers and with a less asinine view of the world, vetpats have taken the trouble to learn Turkish and are better integrated into the wider community. Some have even acquired Turkish citizenship through marriage or toil and are fortunate to have found gainful employment on the right side of the Law.
Single ladies of a certain age, rollercoaster pasts and plucky presents. Some may have once been VOMITs but, unlike many of their sisters, have learned from bitter experience and 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.
A rare breed of seasoned pioneers, Emiköys have forsaken the strife of city life and deodorant for the real köy McCoy. They eke 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).
Those who enjoy a carefree existence of total self-indulgence,
liberated from the binding ties of responsibility or the worries of tomorrow and spend spend spend because “you can’t take it with you”. Typically, they have no children to fret about; that’ll be us then.
A collective term for those who live in utter ignorance of the history and culture of their foster land, shout loudly in English, and see the world at large through the narrow-minded pages of the Daily Mail (also known as the Daily Bigot). Note: The term VOMIT was first coined by former vetpat Cathy Crawford and originally described a select group of Bodrum Belles who had survived their encounters with Turkish men and lived to tell the tale. Subsequently, the word has migrated to its current meaning. None of these terms are mutually exclusive. It is perfectly possible for an emigrey to also be a vetpat VOMIT and a fully paid up member of the ignoble ignorati, and many are.
PANSYPENDIX 2 - A FEW RANDOM WORDS IN TURKISH
Baba – Father Baklava – Layered filo dough soaked in honey with nuts Ben – I/Me Beyaz – White Börek – Cheese-filled filo pastries Cadde – Street Çay – Tea Çok Güzel – V good ery Deprem – Earthquake Dolmus – Public minibus Efendim – Sir/Madam (greeting) Efes – Popular brand of beer and the Turkish name for Ephesus Emlakçı – Estate/real estate agent Evet – Y es Gel – Come Gulets – Two masted traditional Bodrum sailing ships, now motorised Hay – An exclamation Hayır – No Hosgeldiniz – Welcome Istiklâl Marsı – Turkish National Anthem Iyi Bayramlar – Happy holidays Kapıcı – Caretaker Kardes – Sibling Kek – Cake Kilim – Small patterned woven rug Köy – Village Küçük – Small
Lokantalar – Restaurants Lokum – Turkish delight Mahallesi – District in a town. Memnun oldum – Pleased to meet you (literally “I am pleased”) Merhaba – Hello Meyhane – Small, intimate bar with music Meyhaneler – Plural of meyhane Meze –Appetiser Nazar – Evil eye Otogar – Bus Station Pazar – Public market Pide – Turkish pizza Problem var – There’s a problem Rakı – An aniseed flavoured spirit and Turkey’s national tipple Ramazan – Holy Islamic month (Ramadan) Serefe – Cheers Simit – A twisted bread circle sprinkled with sesame seeds Tabii efendim – Y sir/madam es Tamam/Tamam mı – Okay/okay? Tebrikler – Congratulations Tek yön – One way (street) Tesekkür Ederim – Thank you Tesekkürler – Thanks Yabancılar – Foreigners
Jack Scott was born on a British army base in Canterbury, England in 1960 and spent part of his childhood in Malaysia as a ‘forces brat’. A fondness for men in uniforms quickly developed. At the age of eighteen and determined to dodge further education, Jack became a shop boy on Chelsea’s trendy King’s Road: ‘Days on the tills and nights on the tiles were the best probation for a young gay man about town.’ After two carefree years, Jack swapped sales for security and got a sensible job in local government with a pension attached. By his late forties, passionately dissatisfied with suburban life and middle management, he and his Civil Partner Liam abandoned the sanctuary of liberal London for an uncertain future in Turkey. In 2010, Jack started an irreverent narrative about his new life and Perking the Pansies quickly became one of the most popular English language blogs in Turkey. Within a year, Jack had been featured in the Turkish National Press, had become a resident columnist at On the Ege magazine, had published numerous essays and articles in expat and travel magazines and contributed to the Huffington Post Union of Bloggers. As the blog developed a head of steam, a growing worldwide audience clamoured for a book. Jack duly obliged and his hilarious (well, he thinks so) memoir, Perking the Pansies – Jack and Liam move to Turkey, hit the streets. He continues to waste time as a freelance writer and currently lives in Bodrum. The book became a critically acclaimed best seller and its success has opened out a whole new career for Jack as an author. Jack and Liam decided to end their Anatolian adventure and paddle back to Britain on the evening tide. They
currently live in Norwich, a beautiful cathedral city in eastern England. Join Jack on his blog at Perking the Pansies and on his personal website.