A sybaritic weekend by the Sea of Marmara

We would eat sherbet and peacocks' tongues in our very own gazebo for the rest of our lives
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The Independent Culture
IT'S THE same every year; this was no exception. I went to the Chelsea Flower Show yesterday and left feeling deeply depressed not just because I can't afford a gazebo but because there is very little place, if any at all, for a gazebo in my life. This year's Flower Show was practically nothing but gazebos. They started at a modest pounds 875 for little more than a glorified greenhouse and went all the way up to pounds 45,000 for a magnificent multi-domed edifice - part Crystal Palace, part Taj Mahal, part Croydon B&Q.

"Do you actually sell any of these things?" I asked the girl buffing her nails behind a pile of brochures in the Crystal Palace. "Oh yes, lots," she said. "People use them as kitchen extensions and, of course, they're perfect for romantic dining." Which explains why we don't need one, there being precious little romance about the dining in our domestic set-up. I'm the only one who actually wants to sit down at a table to eat. Everyone else would far rather slump in front of the match on television with a take-away pizza.

Technically, of course, I mused, sitting down for a moment to rest my feet (the Flower Show is no mean schlep), a gazebo has nothing to do with kitchen extensions or stuffing your face with added romance. Technically, a gazebo is a small decorative pavilion with open sides and, most important of all, a spectacular view.

There's the rub. Spectacular views are thin on the ground in the Home Counties. A well-heeled friend with a small manor house in Sussex bought a gazebo at the Flower Show last year and re-landscaped her entire garden to accommodate it. It has Chinese lanterns, terracotta pots, masses of Greek statuary and rattan furniture - all the accoutrements, in fact, for romantic dining, apart from one. Her husband. Last month the farmer who owns the fields adjoining the gazebo built an intensive pig unit for 1,500 sows, blocking my friend's view of the South Downs. They haven't used it since.

Opinions vary as to the origins of the word gazebo. Some say it's a humorous version of the Latin for "I shall survey". Others maintain it has oriental connotations. Years ago, on my way home after working in Teheran for a year, I stopped for a few days in Istanbul. Someone had given me an introduction to an elderly Englishman called Kenny Whittall, whose family had lived in Turkey for generations. He would show me round, they said. "Do you play bridge?" asked Mr Whittall at the other end of the telephone. Yes, I said. "Good. We're looking for someone to make up a four this weekend at my country house. Will you come? My driver will collect you at six."

For the next few days, Kenny, two gentlemen friends and I played bridge virtually without a break, in a small decorative pavilion with open sides at the bottom of Kenny's country-house garden overlooking the Sea of Marmara. He called it his folly, I called it his gazebo, and it is the one against which I have measured all others ever since, including the kitchen extensions I saw in Chelsea yesterday. None of them has passed muster in comparison to that Turkish delight.

On Saturday morning we had breakfast and immediately adjourned to the gazebo to play cards. Soft-footed minions brought us refreshments, probably sherbet and peacocks' tongues, I don't remember, and we continued to play through lunch, tea and dinner, rising only to go to bed. The following day we did the same. "Isn't this fun?" said Kenny after dinner on Sunday night. "Why don't we stay on for an extra day? Is everybody free?" I would have stayed on for ever if asked, having fallen desperately in love with my bridge partner, who looked exactly like Omar Sharif - good grief, it probably was Omar Sharif. He plays bridge, doesn't he? He certainly writes about it.

Such was the spell of that sybaritic weekend playing bridge in a gazebo overlooking the Sea of Marmara that I clean forgot the reason for my going home. I was supposed to be getting married the following weekend. On Monday, just before lunch, I was dealt 13 hearts, made my first grand slam and knew that Omar and I were meant for each other. It was kismet. We would eat sherbet and peacocks' tongues in our very own gazebo by the Sea of Marmara for the rest of our lives.

After lunch, a few heavy drops of rain splattered on to our cards through the pavilion's decorative wrought-iron roof. Omar looked quizzically at the darkening sky and said he had better pick up his wife and kids from her mother's before the storm set in.

"Find anything you fancy?" said the girl in the gazebo office at the Chelsea Flower Show. Not exactly, I said, and went off to buy myself a new pair of gardening gloves.