The Belles of Bodrum
This is a preview to the chapter The Belles of Bodrum from the book Perking the Pansies by Jack Scott.
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“Well Liam? Is everything okay?”
“Dad’s fine. He’s strong.”
“I missed you.”
“I know. I missed you too. Now let go, Jack.”
A week after Liam’s homecoming, wild and windy autumnal weather blew into Bodrum, buffeting gulets and propelling chips off dinner plates. The gale hammered everything that wasn’t hammered down. Everything, except the concrete locks of the waitering dandies; Hurricane Katrina herself would have struggled to disturb those gelled masterpieces. The wind was an early warning of things to come; temperatures tumbled and heavy rains overwhelmed the storm drains in the centre of town. A river of brown sludge sloshed against the walls of the houses opposite, and cars rolled slowly through the flood, increasing the tide and adding to the ebb and flow. This was the eternal cycle of Anatolian seasons, six months of blissful perfection and six months of blood-boiling heat or bone-chilling cold. The early arctic snap forced market hawkers to supplement their stock of fake watches with fake heaters. Our new house, smaller, thicker set and less exposed than Tepe Heights, was noticeably warmer, even if it did leak more than the Cabinet Office. We awoke to the whistle of the wind as it blew through the narrow streets, a carpet of adolescent olives attached to broken twigs in the courtyard, and a shallow paddling pool in the living room.
Despite the inclemency, we loved the quirky unorthodoxy of our new town. Bodrum was where bohemian Turks came to escape the oppressive conformity of everyday society. This was where the extraordinary Zeki Müren once lived, a man whose prodigious talent had Turks emptying shelves of his music, flocking to his films and weeping at his poetry. This was also the man who single-handedly advanced the cause of diversity in Turkey, even though he never actually came out. He didn’t need to. Festooned in gaudy jewellery and layered in silky foundation, he showed that difference was okay. The Turks loved him for it.
Out of season, Bodrum’s restaurants entertained Turkish intellectuals who kept one eye on liberty and the other on tradition. Who cares, they would say, if my daughter puts her career first? What’s wrong with the camp guy or the single girl who never marries? Does us no harm, does it? If we can manage the balance between liberalism and modernity, why can’t the rest of Turkey? Sometimes, Liam and I would be asked to join the discourse; there was a hunger for debate and their hunger fed ours. The liberal tinge excited and embraced us.
“Sounds scary,” said Liam.
“It is scary, believe me,” replied Alan.
Charlotte and Nancy were at the infamous Bodrum Ladies Lunch, an annual charity event where men were strictly persona non grata. Female emigreys the length and breadth of the peninsula sold their bodies to the Devil for a ticket.
“Think the Women’s Institute without the jam and Jerusalem,” Alan explained.
We laughed and left Alan to his thoughts. He wasn’t really in the mood for talking and besides, we’d run out of helpful things to say. Any hope of Adalet returning had disappeared and the prosecution case against them was gathering steam. We supped silently at the marina bar and watched the middle- aged moneyed peacocks stroke their yachts, a kind of al fresco masturbation session to bait the fairer sex. Liam peeled the top layer from his beermat and doodled. The schoolboy in him couldn’t resist drawing an erect penis and then turning it into a tree before anyone noticed.
“You must have been one annoying little sprog,” I said.
We sat for hours like three old codgers in an East End boozer, comfortable with the silence and in no rush to leave. At the anointed time, we paid our hesap and accompanied Alan to pick up the girls.
The cackling of two hundred lashed up ladies filled the air, a cohort of excitable dames roosting together on a jetty like a flock of squawking seagulls. A riot of heels, hair and handbags assaulted the eye as the likely lasses cavorted from table to table, tarted up in their autumn finery. Even beefy Brisbane Brigit had been at the curling tongs, though I did spy a rolled up copy of Men’s Health poking out of her rucksack. Alan went to find Charlotte and abandoned us to our fate. It took all of five seconds.
Two women from a particularly drunk and disorderly table at the epicentre of the painted scrum, leapt to their feet and man-handled us to a couple of empty seats.
“New blood, girls, gather round.”
The head of the coven raised a toast to the unexpected windfall. “To men!”
“We’re eunuchs,” said Liam, “Sorry.”
“Don’t worry darling, we’re only playing. Most of us wouldn’t know what to do anymore.”
We were at the inner sanctum of hard core veteran emigreys and the inquisition was playful but forensic. “Where did you spring from, darlings? Married? Holidaying? Ah, Bodrumites. Oh, you’re together? How delicious.”
We were offered sparkling rosé and hand fed chocolate torte. Liam’s temptress was Jilly, a pretty woman with long mousey hair and a vast encyclopaedic knowledge of all things Turkey. Miss Google had taught English in Izmir, had various dalliances with an assortment of Romeos and relocated to Bodrum to eke out an existence as a reformed VOMIT, determinedly single-minded and resolutely single. Liam liked her. She was bright, warm and funny and had an impressive command of the Turkish language.
“Turkish belongs to the Altaic language family,” she told Liam.
“You don’t say.”
She smiled. “I do say. Are you teasing me, young man?”
“Hanging on to every word, honey.”
She stuffed more torte into Liam’s mouth.
“It’s distantly related to Mongolian, Korean and other inscrutable Asiatic tongues.”
“You don’t say.”
“I say you need a damn good spanking, that’s what I say.”
“I feel abused.”
My torte feeder was somewhat gentler. Vicki was a real stunner with deep, interesting eyes and the kind of smile I thought angels had when I first went to Sunday School. We swapped stories, speed-drank and delighted in our shared history. She’d repped for Simply Turkey, a top-notch independent travel company that later dumbed down to become part of another multi-national faceless cattle-conglomerate. Simply Turkey had organised my first ever trip to the Aegean and I gushed about the beautiful whitewashed villa I shared with John in the tiny hamlet of Taşbükü on the Datça Peninsula. I recounted how we’d wallowed in rapture for two weeks, bathed in the gulf of shimmering turquoise, breakfasted in the tumble-down amphitheatre on Cleopatra’s Island and star-gazed on cheap plonk.
“We had a rep called Emma,” I said to Vicki. “She
“Still is. She’s my flatmate.”
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