This is a preview to the chapter Paradise Lost from the book Perking the Pansies by Jack Scott.
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“Well, I can’t see Clem climbing every mountain in slingbacks.”
“Or sitting side-saddle on a clapped-out tractor like a wartime land girl.”
“No chance. Let’s hope he’ll be okay, eh? Silly old goat.”
The high season rush was behind us and we had time and space to think. We had reached an important milestone. Crucially, we had disengaged from the tedious soap opera of the emigrey ignorati, a day-time drama that played out within a parallel universe of neo-colonial separateness. Pork sausages, property prices and Blighty bashing were not really our thing. The Come Dine with Me set had fractured into acrimony, finally collapsing under the weight of its own pretensions and la crème de la crème had well and truly curdled. Released from the bonds of vacuous acquaintance, we relaxed at home in self-imposed solitary confinement, revelling in our good fortune with leisurely dips in the pool and chewing the cud with G&T sun-downers. The isolation of our second honeymoon emboldened us: we cuddled on the terrace and watched Brokeback Mountain with the blinds open. We were the semigrey gays, fortunate enough to retire early and happy living a wanton hedonista lifestyle.
Our halcyon days came to a screeching halt when The Turkish Daily News, the largest English language newspaper in Turkey, ran an article about homosexuality. The Turkish Minister for Children called it a disease that could be cured. Reactions to her comment were mixed. The Minister for Health contradicted her statement and a small demonstration in Istanbul (not quite Stonewall, but never mind) did make the papers so there was some kind of hope. To make matters worse, that very morning, a heated debate was raging on the Turkish Expat Forum: “Gay weddings, for or against? Vote now.” How jolly nice of them to think of us. The verdict was an overwhelming majority against same-sex couples getting married, or having any legal standing whatsoever. The Old Testament hell-and-damnation school of enlightened thought won the day. Victorian values were alive and thriving in Eden.
That evening we held our own prissy protest by camping it up in Yalıkavak. In the interests of personal safety, we dumped the pink ‘I’m queer, get over it’ banners and plumped instead for tight tee-shirts and a gallon of Escada Pour Homme. We toured the village inns in our gay garb, doing our utmost to evade Blackpool Bobbi, who seemed to be stalking us at every turn. Each time the Archangel Gabriel appeared, we knocked back our drinks and moved on. He was as alarming as ever, in torn designer slacks and a white silk shirt held together with gold safety pins. Punk meets Vegas. Fed up to the rafters with expat banality, we were out to bond with the locals – real, genuine, living and breathing Turks. Liam fancied impressing them with his confident grasp of Turkish nouns and I was up for some judicious flirting. We ate meze, drank rakı and hung out in the meyhaneler, the tatty bars that rarely saw an emigrey. As we crawled from one place to another, our confidence grew and Liam’s Turklish became bolder, though not necessarily better. We huddled round tables, talking and signing to farmers, barbers, dolly drivers and builders, knocking back the cheap and largely disgusting local booze and discussing the shocking rise in the price of mutton. Liam tried to convince me that we were well and truly integrating into Turkish society. This was based on the fact that he had ordered three rounds of drinks in Turkish, and, on each occasion, almost got what he ordered.
When talking and walking at the same time became problematic, we decided to call it a night, waving goodbye to our new friends and promising to return, next time with loose English women. Our escape from town was postponed somewhat when an effervescent Üzgün dragged us into a small doorway of a familiar meyhane, tucked away in a small side street lined with master race oleanders.
“No work, Üzgün?” I asked.
“What’s in here?”
“What good things?”
“Bad good things.”
The smoky drinking den was barely lit and packed with local men sitting at tables covered in blue and white chequered plastic. They were shouting to be heard above the Turkopop. Üzgün was upbeat and enthusiastic. Hugs followed.
We discussed the rather unseemly skirmish at Berni’s. “Chrissy and man, they always have problem with me.”
“Then why put up with it, Üzgün?”
“They pay money. I eat. I live. Simple.”
Üzgün shrugged his shoulders, lit a cigarette, struck a Bette Davies pose and draped his arm around Liam. I went to order the gin. Mehmet, the owner, was drinking the profits behind the bar, gyrating his hips in perfect sync to the beat of Tarkan. I stared up at the familiar line of frayed national flags hanging on a string above the bar. Mehmet filled two half-pint tumblers with neat Bombay Sapphire, slammed the glasses onto the bar and slopped half the contents over the ring-marked wood.
“This is welcome drink. Put hair on your Eenglish chests.”
The music became more frenzied and the crowd more raucous. Mehmet pulled down the blinds and raised the heat by pumping up the volume. His sidekick barman jumped up onto the bar and peeled off his tee-shirt, prompting the punters on the improvised dance floor to follow suit. I reluctantly joined the party when an amorous older Turk dragged me across the floor and attempted to undress me. My Teletubby dance companion bounced me around the room, un-deodorised arms held aloft and eyes fixed firmly at my crotch. Not wishing to miss out on the degenerate dance, Liam and Üzgün joined the bare-chested throng. A number of likely lads surveyed the scene and the ambience was full of clandestine possibilities. Young Üzgün fluttered from one flame to another, a carefree moth, free from the crushing weight of duty and intent on sampling the heat of every single candle. Eventually, the dancing climaxed into a very passable impression of a Greek sirtaki and after several drunken revolutions around the floor, we escaped to the bar.
Liam was in mild shock. “What do you make of this place?”
“A touch of the lavender, I’d say.”
As if to reinforce the point, Bobbi entered the bar and headed for the dance floor. We thanked Mehmet for his generosity, waved our goodbyes to Üzgün and scarpered back to reality. As we closed the door behind us, a well-oiled Bobbi sipped his Campari and Coke and shouted across to Üzgün.
“Come to Daddy, laddie. Dreams can come true.”
The next morning, Liam couldn’t feel his legs and decided to stay in bed and pinch for paralysis. I braved the hangover, crashed out on the patio sofa and thumbed through back copies of Time. Our gay night in Yalıkavak had been a licentious success, if a tad more gay than we’d bargained for. My mother once told me that wherever you go in the world, you’ll always find an Irishman. As I told Colin back in London, the same is true of gay men. Wherever you go, regardless of the religious, cultural or legislative backdrop, gay men will always find a way to be gay.
and all the others, when you
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