Perking the Pansies: Jack and Liam move to Turkey
238 pages • Summertime Publishing • 15 December, 2011 [PB]
“This was the eternal cycle of Anatolian seasons, six months of blissful perfection and six months of blood-boiling heat or bone-chilling cold.”
For those of us languishing under bleak northern-winter skies, these delightful, moving and uplifting memoirs of a year’s sojourn in Turkey offer a comforting reminder that the Aegean climate can be challenging too, both in summer and winter, with extremes that we in these temperate isles rarely experience, and then never for long.
The Anatolia Jack Scott conjures up In Perking the Pansies (a punning horticultural reference) is no Arcadia. And just as he paints the meteorological climate warts and all, so he does the social climate, both of the ex-pat British community and the native Turks, especially in their response to an openly gay male couple living in their midst.
Jack and Liam, a forty-something gay couple in a civil partnership, decided to throw over the metropolitan rat-race, take early retirement, sell their homes and move somewhere warmer and cheaper. By 2009 the economic global collapse is well advanced and European countries such as Spain and Greece no longer appear affordable or even particularly stable. By working their way round the map of the Mediterranean, Jack and Liam eventually settle on Turkey as being both affordable and, for a Muslim country at least, reasonably tolerant.
Thus the momentous move is undertaken and Jack and Liam find themselves renting a new-build villa in a development on a steep northern flank of Mount Tepe known as Tepe Heights, which, with its strange assortment of human and animal residents, appears distinctly Wuthering in character.
A disclaimer at the beginning of the book explains that it is based on actual events, although details have been changed to protect the innocent (and, one assumes, the guilty). Having travelled in the East myself I know that prolonged exposure to climate, bureaucracy, inefficiency and corruption can bring out the worst in an ex-pat. The Empire mentality manifests frighteningly fast, even for those of us who aren’t old enough to have experienced Britain’s Imperial ‘glory’, and it emerges with a vengeance in the ex-pat community when Jack and Liam move from their rustication on Mount Tepe into an old house in the heart of Bodrum Town. As Scott mordantly observes: “In twelve concentrated months, our lives had been touched by the good, the bad, the foolhardy and the heart-wrenching. … We could have our place in the sun, but not as fully paid up members of the embittered emigrey imperials.”
Scott peppers his memoir with such tellingly satirical terms, and thoughtfully provides an Expat Glossary at the end which, along with emigreys, includes examples such as semigreys, VOMITs (Victims of Turkish Men), vetpats, hedonistas and ignorati. His use of such terms provides a camp commentary that makes reading the book such a joy.
The book includes a list of colourful characters, British and Turkish, too many and various to list here, but almost Dickensian in their eccentricity, humour, melancholy, self-delusion, kindness and casual cruelty. There is heartlessness and tragedy here but also a generosity of spirit and a positivity, along with a dogged determination to see the best in humanity, which is almost Panglossian.
Perking the Pansies is truly a Turkish Delight and I for one can’t wait for the sequel to find out how Jack and Liam, and their coterie of friends and acquaintances, get on in their second year in Bodrum.