Turkish Delight

Diary. Sunday 22nd June 2008

Early morning coach to Rhodes from outside the hotel then the Lord Saron to Marmaris, Turkey. Broasting weather and indigo blue mountains in the haze. Got there 1030hrs-ish. Narrow inlet with dry pine trees wobbling vertiginously on the slopes. Wrapped in a welcoming hot blanket of humid heat in the sheltered port. The red flag, white star and crescent. We’re not in Europe now, soldier. Though with problems like only 27% of Turkish females literate they want to be. No schools in the sticks. Hospitals? Welfare state? Infrastructure? 3% of the country is in Europe. Beyond the straits at Constantinople the other 97% stretches away across a parched field of minarets and poverty. Asia Minor. Greedy eyes on my increasingly heavy tax burden.

Arranged for a Turkish Bath. Armutalan Haman. Taxi’d up there. Undressed. Locker 99. White rubber sandals. Key and numbered fob on a stiff loop ‘round my wrist. Into the sauna. Sweat beading out of my pores. Hot sensation at the tip of my nostrils when I breathed, like fish hooks being tugged. Zoned. Cleansed.

After fifteen minutes, centrally heated, padded into the hamam room.

A German strutting. Sculptured mullet. Gymtastic. Humming some David Hasselhoff. Pink and white faces. Fried bacon dripping sweat.

Too relaxed and tired to care.

In the high, domed hot room. Light provided by holes cut in the ceiling. Set like stars. Large white marble rectangles laid in a bonded pattern. Polished smooth. Constantly running water. I’m steadily getting warmer. Enervated. Drowsily content. I lie down, give in. Surrender my body and all thought. Voices travelling through the air. Echoing. Huge reverberations flying and colliding together so that the sounds are spinning like a motorcycle rider on the Wall of Death. Chasing each other, holding on to the inside of the dome. A blur of noise and I’m drifting away. Ornate copper basins with cold water from big sinks arranged on the octagonally arranged walls. Soaked. A refreshing sensation through my head.

Turks in chequered skirts, douching themselves with plastic buckets filled with water. Clapping for the next person to step up and be flannelled. Talking to each other in words that I can’t grasp hold of. Admiring the young girl’s incipient titties. Her fat mother ballasted to the earth under the weight of cellulite. The father’s tight, confessional Speedos.

I drag myself upright and onto the marble platform at the centre of the room. Then exfoliated by mittened hands.

Douche. High pressure shower.

I pad back to catch sight of a big hand slap on an obese German woman’s back. Like a side of ham. Turn over.

Onto the marble platform. Soaped. The relaxing sensation. Air filled flannels that roll soapily over my softened body.

I’ve got to get one them. Felt great. I’m asleep, stretching in my bed.

A time-slipping experience of Empire. I glance across to seedy, broken down Colonels and sweating locals. Damp khaki. Falaka canes and indulging in lazy Ottoman orgies. Jodhpurs and swagger sticks. Dusky, available nakedness. T.E. Lawrence. A night in a Turkish Harem. Drowsily sensual.

Another cold shower. A burst to the system.

Jacuzzi. Tumbling into the tepid, bubbly water. Buoyancy forcing me slowly up to the surface.

Ten minutes and upstairs. On beds on the mezzanine running ‘round the central hall with its massive dome and huge black chandelier. Oil massage. Face mask. Rough hands. Attila, I’ve got the one with manky feet! Attila smiles back, greasing some Swede’s large breasts.

He pressed into my muscles. Thumbs probing. The heels of his hands digging into me. Felt good in a painful sort of way. Muscle atonement.

Dressed. Locker 99. New Balance. Camo shorts. A vaguely seasoned feeling to my skin as I pull on my t-shirt.

Fourteen Euros each. Bargain.

Taxi’d back to the centre of Marmaris by two deeply criminal-looking blokes. A short fat one with thinning black hair arranged in a comb-over and an older, taller none with brooding eyes and skin that looked like it had been stained with gravy browning. Straight from the pages of Rudyard Kipling. Anything for a Euro. A pound. A Turkish Lire.

Worked up a hunger. Head for a bar over-looking the tree-lined harbour.

The Turks are complaining about the heat. Forty-two degrees and close. It’s nuzzling my face. Breathing warmly down the back of my neck. Hot hands on my chest. Locals fanning their coffee-coloured faces.

Kebab in the shade of the sun. Donna meat. Savoury. Cold beer. Fat waiter giving me the big thumbs up. He’s jostling for gratuities and commission with another one that looks like Vin Diesel emaciated on a lack of tips.

Kebabalicious. Tzatziki. Pita. Gyros. Wet and dry at the same time. Spiced. Onions complimenting the flavour. I chew greedily. Cold tomatoes and colder lager. Salad. Salt.

Covered bazaar. Real fakes. Real fakes Real fakes. The Turkish guide from earlier, the short coach trip from the harbour: ‘Tell them you have no money. Don’t trust them,’ he smiles benignly. ‘OK?’ A small man with grey hair, glasses, flamboyant shirt. Reminds me of a woman’s hairdresser. ‘You want pink? Buy red.’ Long arcades intersecting. Marble floors. Von Dutch. Abercrombie and Fitch. Ray Ban. Prada. Lacoste. Every name. Every logo. Blurred, over-stitched, crooked. But cheap. Except Gio Goi. Don’t have that. I do. 1988. Leapt on. ‘This is big in Britain?’ Greedy, venal eyes. Examined. Shirt off. Labels inspected. ‘Gio Goi!’ they intone reverentially, staring at the silk screening. Build it and they will come… ‘I make this!’

A done deal for some Prada sunglasses. One piece aviators. Wobbly typing. Just keep saying I don’t want them. I’ll have to leave it at that. Push the glasses back, put them down, return them to the rack. Down down, you bring me down. Down fifty percent. Rock bottom. Glum expression on the tye-dyed face. Any sale better than none at all. Sod him. Sod him for the Dardanelles. For Gallipolli. For shoddy Ottoman uniforms behind Maxim guns. For Lord Byron. I’ll take your Prada 2008. Have that.

Ferry back to Europe on the rising electric blue swell. Rhodes. The deer at Mandraki harbour on its plinth. The Knights Hospitallar’s bastion on the frontiers of Christendom. Thick, medieval walls. Crumbling. Weakening. About to fall.

SAL 28 11 1996

Double take

By the above title I don’t mean the Rotherham husband and wife cabaret duo from the early 80s (Terry and Sandra Skagg, check out their Syd Barrett goes seaside album from 1984 – some copies on ebay), but strange doppelgangers.

Is it just me or does Sky News anchorman Colin Brazier (he’s a warm ‘un. Boom boom!) look like Benny Hill stooge/straight man Henry McGee?

Sky News2

Midway through the pessimistic headlines – floods everywhere, the Middle East on the brink of nuclear catastrophe, the latest Euro 2008 results – I struggle to believe what he’s saying. Any moment I anticipate a conga train of half-naked women to shuffle past at double-time in the background amidst the tele-typists and the live multi-screen shots of the world’s capitals, Benny slapping his little bald headed old man in their wake.

Now here’s Tom with the weather…

The worst job I ever had…

Was when I worked as a runner on the set of Mona Lisa. I was still at school but desperate to get into the film industry. I did all sorts. Swept up, made tea, ran to the shops to get Wispas for Robbie Coltrane, polished Michael Caine’s glasses. The lot. But it was in Bob Hoskins caravan that I had the most hellish time. I had the task of twice every day waxing Bob’s back and arse crack before he filmed his bonking scenes with Cathy Tyson. It was like tackling Captain Caveman. On minimum wage.

Bob’s known for being one of the hairiest men in showbiz and to start with the director Neil Jordan tried filming the love scenes au natural. The rushes were terrible. It was like something out of Gorillas in the mist with Bob pumping away at poor Cathy like Mighty Joe Young. For there on I’d be ushered into Bob’s luxury caravan by the Best Boy, a galvanized bucket of molten wax and some industrial tape in my nervous hands, Hoskins face down on the formica table/bed, back like a hearth rug.

To this day I can’t see a roll of Gaffa tape without a shudder running through me.

It’s good to talk.

The Royal Marines. FAQ

Question: Who are the Royal Marines?

Answer: Commonly called ‘Bootnecks’, the Royal Marines are the Royal Navy’s amphibious warriors and are key component of the government’s Rapid Reaction Force. High on Benzedrine they bring destruction to our enemies around the world, leaving decimation in their wake.

They are required to be trained to work in different terrains and environments, from the cold, mountainous conditions in Northern Europe, to the hot arid regions of the Middle East and Africa and to the dense tropical beach bars of the Far East.

All Royal Marines, except those in the Royal Marines Band Service, are first and foremost, steroid-fuelled killing machines. They are required to undergo what is recognised as one of the longest and most psychologically damaging infantry training regimes in the world. Their blood lust is legendary.

Question: In ‘An Officer and a Gentleman’ was Richard Gere a Royal Marine?

Answer: No, but he might easily have been. Gere trained with 3 Commando for two months during the Spring of 1980 and the easy way he learned with prostitutes during that time was apparent in his 1990 film ‘Pretty Woman’.

Question: What about the initiation ceremonies?

Answer: These are character building. Would be Bootnecks can expect to be demeaned, demoralized and embarrassed as part of a systematic training approach designed to throw their personalities off kilter and turn them into psychotic killing machines.

Question: I take part in homemade pornography, does this debar me from being a Royal Marine Commando?

Answer: Not at all. Many of our ranks fill their spare time by shooting amateur skin flicks and ‘gonzo’ is seen as a healthy pastime when not on active duty slaughtering the enemy. Information on joining the Royal Marines can be found here.

Question: What is 713 Assault Squadron Royal Marines?

Answer: 713 Assault Squadron are a crack commando team specializing in wrecking local public houses. A typical operation will see the unit consuming copious amounts of alcohol for several hours in a local hostelry before erupting into violence and mayhem where as many locals are assaulted as possible and maximum criminal damage is inflicted on the premises. The unit get its name from the cost of repairs to The Cat and Fiddle pubic house in Plymouth destroyed by Marines in 1964. The squadron has been based at RM Turnchapel in Plymouth since 1987, from which it deploys boat groups for operations and exercises worldwide.

Question: What weapons do the Royal Marines use?

Answer: Basically anything to hand. The Royal Marines pride themselves on being able to inflict death and damage with practically any object that presents itself. During the Orkney uprising of 1997 Marine Robinson disabled five crofters with a rusty crampon. A full list of official weapons can be found here.

Question: What is the training to be a Royal Marines Commando?

Answer: The Royal Marines Commando course takes place at the Commando Training Centre, (CTCRM), Lympstone, Devon and lasts 32 weeks. TV fitness guru Rosemary Connelly is currently head of commando development and has taken over from GMTV’s Mr. Motivator who retired from service in 2003. All recruits start the day at 0400hrs with 5lbs of raw liver and groin injections of cattle steroids. The training programme is based around the James Caan film, ‘Rollerball’, with less rules and more violence. The day ends at 2300hrs with systematic beatings dished out by senior recruits.

Full details can be found here.

News clipping. Friday 6th June 2008

Seemless start to metric road scheme says Irish PM

The Irish Government has declared its ongoing metrication programme a success as Ireland’s roads moved from left to right-hand driving this week, with the Taoiseach hailing the change as ‘seamless’.

The move, which came at midnight on Sunday into the early hours of Monday morning is the latest development in a metric programme which brings the Republic into line with the rest of the European Union and is the biggest visible change under the programme since road signs began to display distances in kilometres as opposed to the tyrannical British mile in January. The country-wide change follows a pilot scheme in county Clare which has been running since May 2004.

The Minister for Metrication, Diarmuid O’Mullagh, last night echoed the Taoiseach’s comments and hailed the change as, ‘A victory for Irish independence as we move into the bright sunlight of a free Ireland from the shameful shadow of the British Empire. No more shall the people of this country be forced into the stigma and slavery of left-hand driving.’

The British left-hand drive model was implemented in Ireland in 1922 under an agreement with De Valera in return for cutting a duty tax on Guinness. The emerald isle had previously followed the continental model.

The change has been preceded by months of stealth indoctrination. TV stations have been showing a heavy dose of American and European road movies alongside special editions of popular UK TV programmes such as Top Gear and Celebrity Driving School with the film footage mirrored to show a false representation of the real driving position. ‘In all fairness,’ said O’Mullagh, ‘I think it was showing Thelma and Louise five times on the Saturday that broke the back of the thing, and that’s the truth of it.’

One motorist in Drogheda stated: ‘Bless my soul, begorra, I never noticed, and that I didn’t.”

The Government has warned that following a few weeks grace while protestant motorists learn to adjust, endorseable fixed penalty notices will be issued to drivers who use the left-hand side of the road. The Garda reported a slight rise in road traffic collisions but stated they were, ‘nothing to get worked up about.’

It is expected that Government moves to operate on Central European Time will be brought in on New Year’s Eve, giving revellers a chance to celebrate the start of 2009 twice inside the hour.

Ian Brown

Diary. Sunday 25th July 2004

I’m standing in a Capability Brown landscaped field in the middle of Surrey at nine o’clock in the evening. It’s Sunday the 25th July 2004 and we’re supposed to be at the peak of the long, hot British summer. So far, apart from a few days of sunshine, the weather’s been a wash out. Hopefully tonight will be different. I’ve been waiting for this night for months, if not for years. But you never can tell.

This is Claremont Gardens near Esher, once the home of Clive of India and a childhood playground to Queen Victoria. I’m here to see former Stone Roses singer Ian Brown who’s performing his biggest concert of the year in association with the National Trust who now own the gardens, though not the house. The setting is idyllic – the crowd tiered on the steep grass amphitheatre designed by Charles Bridgeman in around 1722, with the small covered stage flanked by two Cedar trees and backed by a mirror-flat ornamental lake.

Long-time Brown collaborator Aziz Ibrahim (the man who took John Squire’s place on guitar during the disintegration of the Roses and has since co-written a number of Brown’s solo material) has not long since left the stage after doing a solo (mostly instrumental) performance with a percussionist – known amongst the crowd as ‘Dave’- including the full length version of the song which eventually became the introduction to Brown’s ‘Getting High’. Apologizing for not playing the main show with Brown he gives a hint as to what is coming next, saying: ‘Let’s leave the Roses songs to them who wrote ’em.’

It was a uniquely intimate performance with Aziz dazzling on an array of acoustic guitars, playing with his teeth and bringing weird sounds as he loops the effect created by tapping the jack plug on the pickups. Before leaving the stage Aziz says: ‘I don’t know if I’ll ever get my record out, but it’s been a privilege to play them to you tonight.’

We’re now eagerly awaiting Brown’s arrival as roadies put final touches to the stage.

Brown is well on his way to becoming a British institution. In 1989 the Stone Roses were another in a long line of bands hailed as the next Beatles. But for once all the hype was backed up by an album that delivered all it promised. And so for a time that summer (three weeks according to Brown in a 2000 interview with the Guardian) the Roses were IT.

And then came the long hiatus before the second album, which – on the face of it, and at a time when other bands were leaping on the 60s bandwagon – seemed somehow a disappointment. Arguments inside the band followed, Reni left, and a disastrous appearance at the 1996 Reading Festival brought the Stone Roses to an un-satisfying and incomplete end.

Following this public collapse at the height of Brit Pop in the mid-nineties – a time when the Roses should have been reaping the rewards of the seeds they’d sown – Brown’s profile has remained largely good. But at the time expectations regarding any subsequent solo career weren’t high, and initially Brown looked set to prove the critics right as he slid into semi-obscurity and found himself skint and without a career in a Warrington council flat. Three serious beatings in ’95, ’96 and ‘97 compounded matters, and Brown looked set to become yet another casualty of popular music.

Despite the release of the low-fi offering Unfinished Monkey Business (1998) on which he played almost all of the instruments, matters seemed to be continuing downwards, and Brown reached a nadir when he was jailed for air rage in the Autumn of that year after arguing with cabin crew on a flight from Paris to Manchester regarding a ‘Curly Wurly’. Brown spent three months inside HMP Strangeways in his adopted home city of Manchester (Brown was born and spent the first six years of his life in nearby Warrington), where he converted to Islam largely in order to avoid the ‘dog food’ style meat that the prisoners were served up at meal times and secure himself chicken, and though his accounts of his time inside occasionally seem stereotypical, and almost conjure up images of Burt Reynold’s in Mean Machine, he came out leaner and somehow with a renewed focus and his profile underlined.

He now has three solo albums to his credit – the already mentioned Unfinished Monkey Business was followed by Golden Greats (1999), and The Music of the Spheres (2001). Each album has progressed Brown’s individual musical persona. Shuffling, looping break-beats, quasi-mystical lyrics and big choruses. A long-awaited new album is in the pipeline with hopes that it’ll be released before the end of the year.

And, looking back, the Stone Roses are held in higher esteem than ever before, with their debut album listed recently by the Observer as the best British album of all time, and even the hulking leviathan that is the Second Coming LP is starting to be re-appraised more favourably.

Brown’s status seems assured.

The gates opened at 5:30PM and the weather’s just about holding.

The stage suddenly darkens as Lalo Schifrin’s theme to Enter the Dragon fades out and figures appear (the intermission tracks have mostly been classic reggae, including Bob Marley’s ‘Trenchtown rock’, two Beatles’ tracks – ‘Tomorrow never knows’ and ‘Back in the U.S.S.R. – some drum and bass, plus a bit of Shaun Ryder). There’s a big cheer which rises as the bass rumbles into life and to the surprise of the audience, ‘I wanna be adored’ rolls out over the summer night. Brown swaggers onto the centre of the stage as the lights come up – dumping a retro-styled shoulder bag by the drum kit.

He mooches ‘round the stage, nodding his head to the beat.

He looks good.

‘We’re the culture set now, yeah?’ he shouts out, gesturing to the surroundings.

Notorious for his off-key singing, I await the first note with a degree of trepidation.

Mimicking Squire’s spidery guitar work, the lone guitarist walks out over the bass as the kick drum builds the beat. And then Brown launches.

On record his voice holds a sort of Northern cool and swaggers over the music, live – at his best – there’s a terrace chant about it. At it’s worst it is fascinatingly off-key.

Tonight the tune holds and he sings to the faithful. The crowd straightens up and readies itself to be amazed all over again. It’s going to be OK. The weather will hold. Ian’s singing is on the money.

The backing band are tight – bassist and guitarist from an Aberdeen-based Stone Roses tribute band, ‘Fools Gold’ plus Brown’s usual drummer together with Sikh percussionist Inder Goldfinger dressed to the nines and looking like something straight out of Rudyard Kipling’s Kim.

Brown holds his microphone aloft, singing and exhibiting his trademark walking on the spot dance, singing: ‘I don’t have to sell my soul.’

The crowd can’t quite believe it. He’s actually singing Stone Roses songs live for the first time in almost a decade.

‘I wanna be adored’ thunders to a close. Brown asks: ‘Have you got any requests?’

Someone near the front shouts something, Brown angles forward, cupping his ear. He nods, then turning to the guitarist gives the word. A pause, and a moment later the jangly opening to ‘Sally Cinnamon’ fills the countryside.

And so the time flies by. For the next fifty minutes the crowd are treated to almost the entire first Stone Roses album plus the B-Sides ‘Mersey Paradise’ (‘Have you moved to Liverpool?’) and ‘Where angels play’. Amazingly so because no one anticipated this – as Brown well knew, ‘you were expecting these tunes, right?’ This was a solo gig. There was some flakey, stoned idiot in the crowd who’d whisper, nudge nudge, wink wink, to anyone prepared to listen that this was a lo-key gig to herald the reformed Roses and that Squire, Mani and Reni would be there on stage with Brown when the lights went up. No one believed him and I wanted to stab him in the eye. I wasn’t even expecting to hear more than the ghost of ‘Fool’s gold’ at the end of ‘Love like a fountain’ as he’d done in his gigs in 2000.

But tonight Brown is a man seemingly at ease with his own legend. A fan passes across a navy blue old skool Adidas tracksuit top with a stencil of Bruce Lee on the front. Brown eases it on, then swings his arms King Monkey style. The floppy bucket hats – beloved of Reni in ’89 and ’90 – are tossed to him, and he obliges by donning them and doing his take on the moonwalk.

Brown teases: ‘Last Roses tune, yeah?’ And a moment later the guitar ripples into ‘Waterfall’, Brown in fine dancing form.

‘Where angels play’ draws to a finish and Brown moves to the front left of the stage.

‘Let’s see how quiet you can get, just for two seconds, yeah?’ The English summer evening huddles around the proceedings, the lake behind lit by green light. The moment pauses. ‘After three. One, two, three.’

There’s a big cheer and Brown shakes his head.

‘See if you can hold the silence, yeah? After three, yeah? Anyone who opens there mouth gets thrown out,’ he says, the Mancunian accent coming through loud and clear, ‘One, remember keep it nice and quiet, yeah, two, three.’

He counts down again.

A set of wankers continue to scream.

‘Someone’s going to get their head kicked in a minute,’ Brown warns pointing into the crowd.

Once more.

Same result.

Turning away, Brown shakes his head again. ‘You’ve got no vibe,’ he declares before opening into ‘Elizabeth, my dear’.

At times the gig could so easily come dangerously close to simply watching a Stone Roses tribute band, and really you need the rest of the original Roses there to bring home just how good it is to hear Brown sing these songs today. But I’ll take what I can get, and tonight Brown is on form far better than many of his gigs with the rest of the Roses back in the days of Madchester when the 1990s were still full of promise.

Brown triumphantly brandishes his tambourine, at times almost like a weapon. There’s an air of return about this performance.

As if Brown suddenly knows where he fits.

‘I know the truth and I know what you’re thinking,’ Brown announces as ‘Fool’s gold’ shudders to a conclusion. The bass player and guitarist leave the stage, the drummer and percussionist remaining, and it’s time for the solo stuff.

For this Brown reverts to backing tracks and gives what is largely a karaoke performance. But this is serious karaoke. Suddenly a NASA sample cuts through the air and we all know what’s coming. ‘Space exploration, an excursion to the stars, on a military mission, on a military journey to Mars. I’ll see you in my star…’ As Brown sings a ‘plane on it’s way from Heathrow flashes its navigation lights behind a thin veil of cloud in the darkening sky overhead. It all slips into place.

Next comes ‘If dolphins were monkeys’, and then the best song of the night: the monumental ‘F.E.A.R.’ from The Music of the spheres.

Strangely more of the crowd seem to be singing along to the post-Roses songs.

The final song of the night is a new one, ‘Time is my everything’, from the forthcoming album, with a live trumpeter (from Groove Armada) who goes into little dances like King Monkey himself.

And the music concludes to a massive cheer.

Brown picks up his shoulder bag and looks at his watch. ‘We’ve hit curfew, so I’ll love you and leave you.’

A wave and he’s gone again.

I once met a man from County Durham who on a questionnaire listed his heroes as William Blake, Lenin, and Ian Brown. Bill and Vlad weren’t in bad company.