Today, for your delectation, I am proud to have the doyen of Bloggers in Turkey penning here on ‘Archers’. He is a man with more facets than the Koh-I-Nor diamond; more front than Woolworths and a disgusting excess of talent in the sphere of writing. He is fast becoming a Best-Selling Author having just had his amazing first offering published. He has (to quote him rather loosely) perked more pansies than the late, great and much lamented Quintin Crisp.
Ladies and Gentlemen, here he is, all the way from Bodrum (which means basement or dungeon in Turkish, you draw your own conclusions), fresh from his New Year’s Day hangover – Mr Jack Scott. ‘Enjoy, darlings.’
My father ran away from home at the tender age of sixteen. He abandoned his Durham mining town and joined the army. I don’t know why. He never spoke of it. He learned to play the clarinet, joined a marching band and for twenty-seven years floated up through the ranks, eventually making Warrant Officer II. I can only speculate that the army provided a sense of belonging and security that he didn’t get at home. True to his blue collar roots, my father voted Labour all his life and, while he thought the Queen was alright, he had no time for the rest of them. “The hangers on,” he called them. I don’t think Jack Senior was much of a fighting soldier. ‘Trained killer’ isn’t a phrase that springs to mind when I think of him. He was placid but determined, non-academic but bright. He worked for the Pay Corp. I guess he would have been described as a pen pusher. He liked a drink and smoked roll-ups – Golden Virginia. Like father, like son. I even look like him.
As was usual during those post-war fading days of empire, my father travelled – Cyprus, Aden, Eqypt. When he pitched up in Northern Ireland, the penniless pretty boy met a beautiful young woman from a town made famous by an IRA bomb. He swept her off her feet and put her on a slow boat to Hamburg. She sailed away from everything she knew and towards a life less ordinary. I often remark that my father was a sergeant major and my mother was the officer’s mess. She doesn’t mind too much but still clips me round the ear for saying it.
I am the fourth child of five and was born in the married quarters of Canterbury Barracks. I’m the only sibling who was born in Britain. When I was two, we moved to quarters at the Queen Alexandra’s Military Hospital along Millbank, Central London, adjacent to Tate Britain. Long since abandoned as a military establishment, the handsome Edwardian buildings now form part of the Chelsea School of Art, a fitting reincarnation. When I reached six we flew to Malaysia (or Malaya as we old imperials called it back then). I remember being sick on the plane and I remember sitting on my father’s lap and hugging him as soon as the seat belts came off. We spent three glorious years in Terendak Camp just outside of Malacca (Melaka) as part of the 208 Commonwealth Signals Squadron. The 1,500 acre purpose-built camp sprawled along a stretch of tropical coast lined with golden white sands. Lofty palm trees waved in the breeze and I remember staring up at them, watching the birds land on top and wishing I could shimmy up and bag a coconut. It was like living on 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, butchers, bakers and candle stick makers. We had a gardener (always Malay) and a maid (an armah – always Chinese). It was the Swinging Sixties and my two elder brothers will tell you it was the best time of their lives. I think it was the best time of all our lives. Mum and Dad seemed to party continuously. Sometimes the occasions were formal with Dad in full dress uniform and Mum in glittery ball gowns run up by a Chinese seamstress. Others were just plain fun with Dad in Bermuda shorts and Mum in a Hawaiian skirt she ran up herself.
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 armah and crashed into monsoon drains on the back of a rickety home-made go cart. I’ve still got the scars to prove it. Ironically, even though the camp was (loosely) guarded, the freedom within was liberating. Those early experiences made me what I am.
We returned to Blighty just before the Christmas of 1969. We were one of the last families to leave. It coincided with Britain’s reducing global influence and the ‘East of Suez’ policy of withdrawal; the camp was handed over to the Malaysian military soon afterwards. My abiding memory of our return to England is that Rolf Harris had the Christmas number one with ‘Two Little Boys’. I particularly loved the line ‘Climb up here, Jack and don’t be crying.’
There’s a point to this nostalgic ramble down memory lane – apart from the obvious connection with Alan’s own army background (though his experiences and memories are very different from mine, I’m sure). When I wrote my book, almost without knowing, I sprinkled it with personal anecdotes. Instinctively, I wanted to write something which was more than a light hearted romp through our early days here in Turkey. I wanted to add the pathos and drama of our human story alongside the comedy and camp. You see, we miss our families. It’s the price we pay. We didn’t leave our pasts in left luggage.