An island fit for princes and pedestrians

When you are lost in contemplation, details about horse droppings are quite inappropriate
Click to follow
The Independent Online

I magine Leon Trotsky on the Isle of Wight in a Victorian villa whose magnificently ornate facade, columns, cupolas and landscaped gardens do not immediately suggest the residence of a man preoccupied with the exploitation of the proletariat. We pass Trotsky's villa every time we walk into town to do our shopping. We are not in the Isle of Wight, by the way, we are in Turkey on an island in the sea of Marmara, which attracts day trippers from Istanbul in much the same way Cowes lures families from Portsmouth.

We are here on a whim. I spent a weekend in Istanbul last October and learned that a friend of a friend had a house on Buyukada in the tiny archipelago formerly known as the Prince's Islands and, more important, was willing to let us borrow it. The ferry from Istanbul takes an hour and a half, there's a much faster one but no one seems to know when it runs. Who cares? I'm a connoisseur of ferries - admittedly Caledonian MacBrayne for the most part which don't have a lot in common with their Mediterranean counterparts. For a start there's no wall to wall Kylie Minogue.

We sat outside on the top deck watching the Istanbul skyline gradually change from mosques and minarets to concrete high-rise and industrial tat. The locals stayed inside watching Kylie videos. The chief attraction of Buyukada, especially for Londoners traumatised by traffic and congestion charges, is that there are no cars. Horse-drawn buggies with leather seats and fringed canopies wait in the square beside the quay. But any delusions I might have harboured about the innocent joy my children still derive from simple pleasures such as trotting horses and bobbing fringes was rudely dashed by their obsessive interest in one thing only on that first romantic drive to our island home.

"Gosh Mum, quick, come and look at that big trough thing they have got attached to the shaft under the horse's tail. Is it to catch all the horse shit?'' Well, yes, as a matter of fact it was, but these are details and when you are lost in contemplation as I am sure I was, of the rich cultural legacy bequeathed to us by Byzantine craftsmen - exquisite mosaics, carpets, jewellery, silverware, of Suleiman the Magnificent, Topkapi Palace and the Grand Vizier in whose glorious 18th-century palace beside the Bosphorus we spent the previous night (it's now a hotel), humdrum details about horse droppings are both inappropriate and irrelevant.

A couple of summers ago, an Italian arrived off the Oban ferry for a week at our house on the Isle of Lismore. On the drive home, not in a horse-drawn buggy but an old Ford van bought off a local farmer for forty quid, I told Gieppe about the Pictish fort, the Viking castle and the hill where, on a clear day you can see Duart Castle on Mull and as far south along the Argyle coast to the Isle of Jura. Was there a dry cleaner on the island is all Gieppe wanted to know.

Life without cars is life without noise, pollution, stress, danger. In short, Utopia. I know that Ken Livingstone has just spent untold millions on his congestion charge scheme, but at the risk of banging on about it, wouldn't it have been more sensible to ban all private cars from central London apart from the 999 emergency services, restrict deliveries between 2am and 6am, spend mega-bucks on improving public transport and cycle lanes, halve the price of black cabs and reintroduce horse-drawn carriages with troughs attached to a shaft beneath the horse's tail.

I read somewhere that far worse than pestilence, pea-soupers and poverty in Dickensian London was the mess in the streets from horse traffic, though it was gold dust to farmers on the outskirts.

Our landlord has gone on holiday this week leaving his baby, the nanny and his Russian mother in the basement. Her name is Ludmilla Borisovna and no one, not even her daughter-in-law, would dream of shortening it.

Like everyone else, I called my late mother-in-law Moggy which in retrospect was probably where the rot started. If everyone, including me and the grandchildren, had referred to her as Marjorie daughter of Spencer, other standards pertaining to clothes, table manners, loud music and topics of conversation to avoid on finding yourself in a horse-drawn carriage 15 leagues from Constantinople would also have been maintained. It's not the time that's out of joint, it's me.