I'm telling you this because I was afforded a rather scary insight into the imperial mindset of old Thomas the other day. My friends and I had driven down the forested coast of southern Turkey to the ruined city of Anamurium, once a thriving — well, the usual story; raided by Arab corsairs in the 7th century, it's now a Byzantine ghost town.
It was deserted. And we set off to explore it. That is, explore in the way day-trippers do; have a clamber about some ruins and then think about lunch. Anamurium, though, is a vastly special place. So our offhand plan, to wander and leave, backfired. To start with, the city is huge. And the weather was conducive to all sorts of misty, nineteenth-century Romantic thoughts. Soft and rainy, with the tops of the limestone hills obscured by cloud, and the whole, the whole vast complex of broken walls and arches, emerging from acres and acres of bright wildflowers. My Turkish flora is rudimentary, and I've not got any photos yet (they will come) but — well, the wet air smelt of rocket and bay and sage and thyme, and there were nightingales singing from the scrubbier slopes, and a rock nuthatch yelling at us from the ruins of the bath-complex, and a very wet long-legged buzzard sat eyeing us from the arch of a ruin further up the hill. Yes, there were goats, and an abandoned orchard of lemon trees, and broken marble columns all over the beach, and Isabelline wheatears hopping all over them. It was — yes, here comes a horrendously nineteenth-century word — enchanting.
And the warden, a short, cheerful man in giant brown gumboots that reached to his knees, rescued us when it started tipping down with rain, and took us into the broken barn with a stove in it to keep dry. And when the rain had stopped, he started to show us around the ruins, partly in French, partly in German, and I hit my head really very hard indeed on one low arch as we entered a roofless building. So hard that I saw stars, and so hard that what I saw next confused me greatly. In two small, plastered alcoves, the guide was — what was he doing? He was squirting water from a bottle onto the back of the alcoves, and rubbing the plaster hard with his hand. And there, drenched and rubbed, out of the dust, were two painted peacocks. Really good ones. Dark blue heads, fine crests, and bright eye-spots fading to taupe. Hmm, I thought. That can't be very good for the paintings, can it? Oh dear.
And then, as the rain grew heavier, pittering down on their glowing surfaces, the man with the big brown gumboots scraped the stones back over to cover them up, and the rain kept falling, and he was grinning, and I was grinning, and it was like a shared joke. Blame my head, maybe, but I couldn't help thinking he knew what I was thinking, and I looked up and around at the hillside city in its trails of cloud and thought, with enormous relief, Oh. But of course they're here. Scritch scritch scritch.