I’ll never forget my first visit to Turkey. It was during a balmy October, warm enough for strolling in shorts and t-shirt, swimming in the sea and dining in a linen shirt sans jumper. Liz and I stayed in a well-appointed hotel on the Bodrum sea front and got to fall in love with the local restaurant, Sunger, where we ate most days. My abiding memory, however, wasn’t the weather. Neither was it the cheap beer; beer and memory tend not to go hand-in-hand after all. Nor was it the fact that we put a successful offer in on our boat! No, my strongest memory of that trip was tomatoes. Big, fat, juicy tomatoes. Tomatoes that actually tasted of tomatoes. Tomatoes that tasted as God intended… and I’m an atheist. If there is a God then surely his greatest achievement is the Turkish tomato. And then I discovered Turkish rocket! Phewee! Rocket so peppery that one’s mouth explodes with flavour, with leaves so big one could shade from the sun under them. Not like the limp rabbit food they sell in vacuum-packed bags in Tesco back in Blighty.
I’m currently in the UK, visiting my parents. On my first day my mother kindly agreed to get my food shopping, so I gave her a list of vegetables, pulses and spices to see me through the week. I thought I’d make similar dishes to the ones Liz and I eat on-board during the winter: curries, stews, soups, cauliflower cheese, bean feasts and so on. Now, for those living in Turkey you’ll understand that shopping for fruit and veg is a weekly highlight. You can’t beat a bustling market with smelly cheeses and samples of olives, figs, nuts, tea and cheap, good quality veg. The last cauliflower I bought was the size of my head. My head is big. The brussel sprouts are so flavoursome we frequently munch our way through a bowl, drizzled with melted butter and ground pepper. We eat them with no accompaniment, they’re so tasty. The oranges are in abundance in the winter and it’s not uncommon to start our day with half a pint of freshly squeezed juice.
Oh to be back in Fethiye, rubbing shoulders with the locals in the huge, Tuesday market
Imagine my horror, then, when Mum returned with a sack of onions marked ‘Grade 2: cooking onions’. What the hell are ‘cooking onions’? As opposed to what? I opened them up and they were pretty poor quality, small and sometimes rotten. The cauliflower, wrapped in a pre-packaged plastic bag, was smaller than a bowling ball. The spices, which came in small, single portion bottles, were rather over priced. Oh to be back in Fethiye, rubbing shoulders with the locals in the huge, Tuesday market…
I’m almost at the end of my visit and I never did get round to cooking all those wonderful meals I normally do on the boat. The convenience of microwaves, home-deliveries and Mum’s cooking got in the way. I’ve spent a fantastic few weeks catching up with friends and relatives, sampling the delights of real ale in country pubs warmed by a glowing log fire. Good roads, considerate drivers and well-connected motorways made driving in England quite bearable, apart from that daily traffic jam on the M25 by Dartford tunnel.
My time here is done, though, I’m missing my Mrs, my cat, my home (Esper) and my adopted town of Fethiye. I’ve over-spent, run out of clean clothes and now have the worry of excess baggage charges at Gatwick to look forward to. Groan. In the last few weeks I’ve been mentally comparing my old home with my new one. I can’t help it. My brain unwittingly has created a list that I must log for posterity. I guess it’s one of the delights of travel – the annoying luxury of comparing and contrasting:
What I love About England
- Family and friends. They’ll always be here and they’re a joy to come back and visit.
- Pubs and beer. Oh yes, Adnams Broadside, London Pride and Abbot ale. Open fires and sticky carpets. Buxom barmaids and pork scratchings. Mmmmmmm. I’ll be returning to Efes lager, or Efes Light or Efes Dark. Any colour as long as it’s Efes.
- Radio 4, The Observer and fast internet connection. Informed and uncensored. No Youtube and thepiratebay bans in England. No one telling me what media I can and can’t consume. Freedom of speech and all that.
- Shops that sell everything. Turkey does have some good shops but really, I need a brush for varnishing that won’t fall apart after 5 minutes use, and a flat-headed screw-driver that doesn’t snap when I use it. And if I want to buy a dehumidifier I don’t want to have to sail for 10 hours to Rhodes to purchase one and be charged €170 for the pleasure.
- Music and sub-culture. Lots of it and forever changing. There’s only so much Turkish pop I can stand before I start pining for the good old days of clubbing and live concerts and loads of radio stations. Please, even a pub jukebox will do!
What I Don’t Miss About England
- The must-have culture. Seriously, does your child actually need a Playstation, an X-box, a computer AND Sky TV in his bedroom?
- Are you looking at me? Walking the streets without making eye-contact with strangers for fear of being stabbed. Take last Saturday: no sooner had we got off the bus in Brixton was some nutcase screaming at the top of his voice, running across the main road threatening a couple with a bloody and painful demise. The crowds parted like the Red Sea, whilst my cousin and I looked straight at the floor and quickened our walking speed by a few knots. I hate that.
- Generic high-street shops killing off local businesses. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: just how many coffee shops does a small market town like Saffron Walden actually need?
- Over-crowding. Roads, tubes, pubs, shops. Give me some space!!!
- The weather. I don’t mean the British climate, I mean the weather report on TV after the news. How many ways and how long does it take to say ‘it’s raining’? Actually, the British climate is pretty shit, isn’t it?
Moany old git? Maybe, but I’m forever grateful for my fortunate position, of having the best of both worlds. You may be disappointed to read that there’s no conclusion to this essay. I’m not going to say one country is better than the other because, like life, it’s all swings and roundabouts.
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