Jack Scott is a freelance writer and author. In 2009, he relocated to Bodrum with his partner, Liam, starting the Perking the Pansies blog which quickly became the most popular blog of its kind on that side of the Aegean.
Jack’s irreverent, irrelevant ramblings have struck a chord with many judging by the numbers and now there’s a book: Perking the Pansies, Jack and Liam move to Turkey. He talks to us about his current hometown in southwest Turkey.
I’m sure you’ve never heard this before: where are you from?
Both Liam and I are London boys with our London ways. Liam was born in Holloway, North London, so is a proper Londoner whereas I arrived in the Smoke at the tender age of ten via Canterbury and Malaysia. Before our exodus, we strutted our stuff in Walthamstow, East London. The Stow is moderately famous for three things – a dog track, a boy band called East17 and the longest street market in Europe. The first two are now defunct; the last is receiving the last rites.
And what did you do there, then?
I had ascended the local government career ladder to middle management, middle income and a middling suburban terrace. Liam was working for a cut and thrust, slash and burn private company trying to coax the unemployable into work. We’d both reached a professional impasse; we decided to jump ship and preserve mind and soul.
How did you end up in Bodrum?
We’ve been visiting the western shores of Anatolia for many years and know it well. Even now, you get a lot of bang for your bucks in Turkey. For us, Bodrum was the bookmaker’s favourite from the outset. It’s a chic, cosmopolitan and happening kind of place attracting serious Turkish cash and an interesting cohort of Bohemian types. The little gem of a town also attracts relatively few discount tourists compared to its uglier sisters up and down the coast.
Have you lived abroad before?
At the age of six, I became an army brat and went to live in Malaysia with my family. We spent three glorious years in Terendak Camp just outside of Malacca (Melaka). The 1,500 acre purpose-built base sprawled along a stretch of tropical coast lined with golden white sands and lofty palm trees. It was like living in an all-exclusive resort with everything on tap – a hospital, two schools, four churches, a shopping mall, a cinema, pubs and clubs, sports and leisure facilities, butcher, baker and candle stick maker. I schooled in the mornings, swam in the afternoons and roamed shirtless at will. I climbed up and fell out of trees, got bitten to buggery by tropical creepy crawlies, built ant-infested dens out of army-issue packing boxes in the patchy rainforest, played Chinese hopscotch with the maid and crashed into monsoon drains on the back of a rickety homemade go-cart. I’ve got the scars to prove it. Ironically, even though the base was (loosely) guarded, the freedom within was liberating. Liam, on the other hand, has never lived overseas before. He’s travelled around the world to make up for it; he’s a seasoned traveller.
So what’s so good about Bodrum?
I love the variety. Bodrum is a town of two distinct halves, divided by the imposing crusader castle. Like London, the east end is the rougher. It’s typified by Bar Street, a procession of cheap and cheerful bars and hassle shops. Conversely, the west end is super swanky and wantonly expensive. The exemplar bar is Fink, a lavish watering hole dominated by an enormous sparkly-red overhanging chandelier, the most photographed lampshade east of Versailles. High and low brow drama unfolds nightly along the celebrated promenade as pot-bellied Brits in sports-wear vie for space with the well-heeled in yacht shoes. There’s never a dull moment.
And what don’t you like?
Turkish drivers. They’re insane. Roads can be perilous and driving is best left to the foolhardy or the suicidal. Our house is located along the same ancient thoroughfare as the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus (Bodrum that was). Two camels wide, the street is furnished with intermittent pavements. By day, pedestrian passage is a testing experience. At particularly narrow sections, unsuspecting tourists find themselves pinned up against a whitewashed wall and cling to it for dear life as overladen trucks thunder past at impatient speed. By night, the street is transformed into a pale imitation of the Monaco Grand Prix circuit as suicidal biker-boys race four-wheel-drive tanks (and each other) in a testosterone-fuelled exercise in reckless abandon. Death and permanent disability lurk at every tight twist of the antique road. Also, Turkish red tape is staggering in its pointless Byzantine complexity. Everything must be completed in triplicate, duly stamped and accompanied by multiple copies of official identification. There are enough copies of my British passport in circulation to supply the Israeli Secret Service for years.
Do you feel like an insider or outsider?
Somewhere in the middle. We have our glorious place in sun but not as fully paid up members of the expat nouveau raj who complain bitterly of all things local. Nor can we be plastic Turks. Our very obvious union and dismal language skills preclude it. We occupy the space in between, neither fish nor fowl.
How do you support yourself?
We can’t work in Turkey; work permits are impossible to come by unless you are sponsored by a company or offering a service that cannot be provided by a Turk (teaching English is a good example of this). We’re official designated as ‘retirees’ even though we’re far too young to retire in the conventional sense. Fortunately, we sold our London properties just as house prices were in free fall. We banked the capital here in Turkey and live off the interest. Historically, interest rates have always been high but have recently reached a historic low. We get around 11%. Believe it or not, this is low for Turkey!
Any advice for wannabe Bodrumians (<—I’m sure this is wrong. What do you call yourselves?)
I call the expats hereabouts Bodrum Belles or Beaus depending on their sex. To qualify you must live within Bodrum Town itself. Anywhere else just doesn’t cut the mustard. My advice to wannabe ‘emigreys’ here of anywhere else in Asia Minor, is to develop the patience of a saint and the wisdom of Solomon. They’ll need both. On a more positive note, there is so much more to discover than the pages of a Thomas Cook brochure might suggest. I would implore more of our compatriots to step off the sun-kissed beaches, wander out of the homogeneous Brit-bars, sober up and go exploring like the wandering Brits of our own glorious past. Go savour the history that lies underfoot and around every corner.
Is the move permanent?
Apart from our relationship, these days we don’t think of anything as permanent. Our time in Turkey has broken the umbilical cord between work and lifestyle. We may stay, we may not. We rent so we can move on as the mood takes us. Eventually, we’ll probably move back to Blighty. After all, home is where the heart is and the health care is free.
Finally, tell us about something typically Bodrum (or Turkish)
Hanife, our formidable landlady and the matriarch of an old Bodrum family, regularly pops by with various treats such as just-picked fruit, freshly baked pastries or sticky honeyed dough balls. This is part of an age old and noble tradition in Turkey. If a neighbour presents a gift of food on a plate, always respond in kind and never return the plate empty. We stick to the tradition – with a twist. We return the dish with the rent money. Canny Hanife doesn’t seem to mind judging by the smile on her face. Every day is different in Bodrum. Good, bad, but always different.