You may remember a little while back that I wrote about my new friend, Jack Scott, author of the blog, Perking the Pansies. He had written a book by the same name. Jack was kind enough to share a copy with me. I am only about half way through it – but I have decided to share more of Jack with you! The book is hilarious so far! I highly encourage you to buy the book!
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.
Jack is a world traveler from the U.K. He and his husband Liam moved to just outside of Bodrum, Turkey and share an adventurous life which Jack writes about in his book. Below is my interview with the author:
Q. Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from? Where have your travels taken you so far?
A. I was born on a British army base in Canterbury, England in 1960 and spent part of my childhood in Malaysia as a ‘forces brat’. My father left the army when I was ten and we settled in South London. The little local grammar school I attended laid on the most incredible journeys designed to broaden horizons and expand the mind. One early morning, at the height of the Cold War in 1975, twenty or so spotty sweaty boys boarded a train at Victoria Station and headed for the coast. We sailed on the morning tide to Flanders and began our grand passage across the great North European Plain. First stop, Berlin, through the Iron Curtain at Checkpoint Charlie. Onwards east, our carriages were pulled by an ancient steam locomotive that choo choo’d its way across a flat, treeless landscape, perfect for tank battles. A brief whistle-stop in Warsaw precluded an excursion and we continued on across the Soviet border where the entire train was silently raised from its bogies and placed onto a new set of wheels to fit the wider Russian railway gauge. Next stop, Moscow. Tsar Brezhnev was on the Soviet throne at the time and we were tightly chaperoned by an over-painted nanny accessorised in cheap scent. Third stop, Leningrad that was; The Venice of the North was a visual treat. As if Peter the Great’s grand imperial capital wasn’t grand enough, our next jaunt was a day trip to Novgorod, one of the most celebrated cities of medieval Rus. I absolutely loved it. Eventually, we steamed back to Blighty, popping into Helsinki and Stockholm en route and chugging across the cold northern seas in an old Ruskie rust bucket that had seen service in World War Two. It was an extraordinary trek – three weeks, five cities, seven countries. At the age of eighteen and determined to dodge further education, I 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, I quit my dead-end job, booked a one way ticket to the good old US of A and parachuted into Washington DC. I was young, I was handsome and I had cheekbones that could slice cheese. My hosts lapped me up and I let them, happy to wow the randy scamps in Rascals, a popular watering hole and pick-up joint for federal employees. They seemed to like my accent, not to mention my uncut assets. After a few months living the American dream, I pined for the Mother Country and flew home on British Airways. I often wonder what would have become of me if I’d stayed Stateside. After my youthful Yankee dalliance, I swapped frolics for security and took a sensible local government job in London. My career years were spent holidaying across various foreign fields – the USA and most of Western Europe. By my mid-forties, passionately dissatisfied with suburban life and middle management, I met Liam, my Civil Partner, and we abandoned the sanctuary of liberal London for an uncertain future in Turkey.
Q. When did you arrive in Turkey and why did you come? When did you decide to make it your home and why?
A. We first paddled ashore in November 2008, determined to take a break from our labours. We would put our feet up and watch the pansies grow while we were still young enough to enjoy it. I’d like to say we chose Turkey because of the swarthy men, sexual ambivalence and stolen glances at every corner. The truth is more prosaic: we needed somewhere with an easy commute of Blighty. The Eurozone was off the agenda because the Pound to Euro exchange rate conspired against us; so the usual venues of choice for sun-starved Brits – Spain, Portugal and Greece – were out. We knew we would get more bang for our bucks in Turkey. Also, we’d been dipping our toes in the warm waters of the Aegean for years and knew the stunning country quite well. With the current crisis in the Eurozone, I think we made a wise choice.
Q. Tell us about your blog. What is it about? When did you start it? Why did you decide to share it with the world?
A. I began writing my blog, Perking the Pansies, in November 2010. With the luxury of excessive time on my hands I thought, why not? Finding gainful occupation can be a real challenge to expatriates and by occupation I don’t mean propping up the bar to Brit-bash and complain ad nauseum of all things local. The blog keeps me on the straight and narrow (though not always off the sauce). I write primarily about what I see around me in our rarefied semi-detached expat world. We expatriates, or ’emigreys’ as I call us, come in all shapes and sizes – the mean and the mannered, the classless and the classy, the awful and the joyful. It’s a rich seam and the material is more or less handed to me on a plate.
Q. Tell us about the book. How did it come about? Why did you write it? Who should read it?
A. I happened across someone called Jo Parfitt. Jo is an accomplished and successful author, mentor, journalist and publisher and specialises in publishing books by ex-pats who have something original to say about living abroad. I thought that Perking the Pansies had the potential to be something more than a blog and set about writing a book version. Miraculously, Jo offered me a contract after seeing the first five chapters. I cartwheeled round the room when I got the email (not literally you understand, these old bones of mine couldn’t quite take the strain) and more than one cork was popped that night. It wasn’t supposed to happen; it’s nigh on impossible for an unknown writer to get a publishing contract. Although my book is an accurate memoir of our first year in Turkey, it reads like fiction and I’ve been told it has comedy, pathos, plot and strong characterisation. Pacey and racey have been other descriptions. Actually, reaction to the book has been quite amazing and it seems to be appealing to a broad audience – those interested in living abroad, those who enjoy British saucy humour, those interested in the absurdity of a gay couple settling in a Muslim country and those who just like a good tale. It isn’t a worthy tome about the majesty and grandeur of Turkish culture and history or a political polemic on the lot of gay Turks. I might do that one next!
Q. Do you have a favorite passage you would like to share with us?
A. I’d like to share the part of the précis I presented to the Polari Literary Salon at London’s Royal Festival Hall in February. Our halcyon days came to a screeching halt. The Turkish Minister for Children called homosexuality a disease that could be cured. This was followed by a heated debate on the Turkish Expat Forum: “Gay weddings, for or against? Vote now.” Depressingly, 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. Middle England miseries welded to their tabloids. Sad people, bad people, expats-in-a-bubble people. They hate the country they came from; they hate the country they’ve come to. This was my social life. This is what I gave everything up for. This was Liam’s bloody Nirvana. We were the mad ones, not them. I asked the ultimate question. What was there to keep us here? Adalet was in an orphanage and our persecuted friends were about to be prosecuted. Our phone was being tapped and the country might yet lurch to the religious right. A harmless little man had become the victim of a vicious homophobic attack and we were surrounded by myopic emigreys who obsessed about the price of bacon. I missed my family and friends, decent Indian food, central heating, the big city buzz, riding the tube outside the rush hour and the soaring triumph of liberalism. But then, we loved the quirky unorthodoxy of Bodrum where bohemian Turks came to escape the oppressive conformity of everyday society. This was where the extraordinary Zeki Müren once lived, a man whose 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 even though he never actually came out. He didn’t need to. Festooned in gaudy jewelry and layered in silky foundation, he showed that difference was okay. The Turks loved him for it. I grabbed Liam’s hand. “Fancy a dance?” A half-hearted moon appeared from behind the burgeoning clouds and slowly revealed two drunken shadows waltzing at the top of the hill. Liam whispered into my ear. “Keep your pecker up. Good days, bad days. You know how it works.” He was right. The boys from the Smoke were down but definitely not out. A year in the making and our voyage had barely started. What began as an exhilarating journey into the unknown soon became a raw test of endurance. We survived the fall of the Raj, separated the wheat from the chavs, distanced ourselves from the emigrey closets and cried a river over Adalet. But the turbulence that swirled around us only served to bring our sainted existence into sharp relief. I wondered what our town made of us. A message from a Turkish-American Bodrum Belle gave us hope. “There will be envy among your neighbours that there are two very polite gay foreigners who pay on time and are courteously living in the family’s stone house, both of which have already singled you out. Whilst the older generation counts the pesos, you are setting a path of freedom for some of the very trapped sons and daughters of Turkey. If it were easy, you would not be doing it.” Turkey is a magical land graced by a rich culture, gorgeous people and an intrinsic love of family. A respect for difference won’t destroy that. It’s okay to be queer. It won’t bring down the house, though it might bring in a little more style. At times I think we’re floundering about like idiots but now and then I think we’re making a real difference. Time will be the judge. In the meantime, rising inflation and falling interest rates may yet force us to perk our pansies elsewhere. I hear Bulgaria is nice.
Q. Where can my readers buy the book?
A. Perking the Pansies, Jack and Liam Move to Turkey is available on Kindle and paperback through Amazon, most other online bookshops and from any good bookshop. For more information please check my personal website, www.jackscott.info.