Turks delight in an Essex Sunday

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Indy Lifestyle Online
At first sight, the outskirts of Brentwood may not appear to hold much in the way of eastern promise. But this weekend hordes of London Turks, intent on escaping the bustle of the metropolis, will head for Thorndon Park which overlooks the flat industrial landscape of the lower Thames Valley. This view, apparently, reminds them of Turkey.

The trip, which takes place every Sunday over the summer months, has developed into a finely honed routine. Around 10am, a stream of cars and coaches starts to pour in from the main London to Southend road, the A127, turning off immediately into the southern part of the park. Enterprising Essex council has introduced a pounds 1 per car parking fee on Sundays only - locals park free the rest of the week - which brings in pounds 450 on a good day.

The number of people visiting can be up to 2,000 if it is a sunny Sunday, according to Peter, the car park attendant, who has been doing the job on a casual summer basis for the past four years.

He greeted visitors with a wave and a smile, 'I've got to know their faces,' he says. From the radio beside his wooden hut a welcoming wail of eastern music can be heard. 'It's Greek, actually,' he admitted, although this did not appear to alienate his Turkish customers. 'I love Greece and have been going there on holiday for the past 10 years. I can even speak a few words.'

By midday, the smell of cooking kebabs wafted from the barbecues across to the entrance gate, luring

visitors in. The scene could have been staged for a Turkish holiday brochure - entire

families gathered around flaming barbecues, clothes lines bedecked with colourful teatowels strung from branch to branch, and distinctive Turkish music emanating from port-able music centres.

This was no place for vegetarians. An uncooked lamb carcass was strung from one tree, waiting to be cut into chunks for the kebabs.

For many of the families this was the perfect day out, surrounded by people from their own community, who speak their own language. Many of the older people speak very little English; only the teenage children are fluent, making the traditional east Londoner's day out in Southend seem a far less appealing option.

Among the visitors were not only Turks, but also Turkish Cypriots and some Kurds. Ayse Yilmaz, 21, from Hackney, says: 'It reminds my mum of Turkey. She doesn't like Hackney. It is so crowded and there is no peace and quiet.'

Ayse was there with her 18-strong family of aunts, uncles, brothers and sisters. Her mother got them up at seven o'clock to be ready for the trip. They left at nine, travelling in a convoy of three cars, and eventually arrived at Thorndon Park at eleven, loaded up with barbecues, odd squares of carpet to sit on, and enough food to keep them going until seven in the evening, when it was time to go home.

'While we are here we just play games and have a rest,' says Ayse. The boys were out on the grass playing football, while the women sheltered among the shade of the trees, playing cards and five-stones.

Her father, a chef at a Turkish restaurant, was in charge of the barbecue. 'Barbecues are the most special meal for Turkish people,' explains Ayse.

Nearby, another family has staked its claim to a place on the grass. Only the young daughter, who was born in east London, spoke English. She said her family were Turkish Cypriots. Her grandmother sat happily surveying the scene, dressed in black, her head covered by a traditional headscarf.

Last week was particularly busy, with people arriving in their coachloads along with the cars. The Alevi Cultural Centre, which has members from families brought up in the Alevi faith (a branch of Islam), was running a day trip to the park from Hackney, which cul-minated in a festival of Turkish dancing and music.

But the attraction of Thorndon Park could be

fading. In the past few weeks, the families have discovered a new venue, just up the A1 at Stanborough Park in Welwyn Garden City, where there is an open-air swimming pool, and a lake for sailing and wind-

surfing. Some of the families, however, say they will remain

faithful to Brentwood. Ayse and her family had been to Stanborough Park the week before, but found it far too crowded for their liking.

'It is nice here, with the views and the open space. It is nice and quiet,' says Ayse.

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