'Burası Türkiye!' 'This is Turkey!'

Is This The True Story Behind The Title To Louis de Bernieres’ Wonderful Story, ‘Birds Without Wings’?

This is a true story – no, it really is, I promise you. OK, I’ll admit to a bit of speculation about one small part of it, but I’ll let you weigh up the odds and decide for yourself. It starts like this . . .

J was in the UK and our daughter, son-in-law and grandson were due to arrive for a holiday stay a couple of days before she would get back home. I met them at the Airport and as we were driving back through Dalaman I had an inspired idea; I’d stop at the famous ‘Chicken Restaurant’ that is run and operated by the prisoners at the open prison there and pick up a couple of spit-roasted chickens that would be sure to see us through until J got back. In due course we got home, knocked up a bit of salad and I unwrapped one of the delicious smelling birds. Mmmmmm!

At this point I need to tell you that I do love a bit of banter, I get hours of childish delight from it. J on the other hand doesn’t get it at all and can sometimes gets quite irritable; I would describe her as a double for that butler character played by Anthony Hopkins in ‘The End of the Day’ who tries to learn banter to please his new American ‘gentleman’. Anyway, back to the story and the chicken; as I put the bird on the plate and with J away felt I could indulge myself and made one of those throw-away comments (banter) to the effect that ‘These Turks are bloody clever fellows, do you know that they have genetically engineered their chickens without any wings so that they fit into those spit-roast ovens better?’ ‘Really?’ asked son-in-law Paul, looking closely at the bird that I had started to hack to pieces. ‘Yes’ said I, pointing, ‘look, no wings.’

Now, I have to confess that it never crossed my mind that anyone would take such a silly thing seriously until that is, J arrived back home. On our way through Dalaman she suggested we stop and pick up a roast chicken from the prison restaurant, she was tired after the flight and I didn’t want to complicate matters by confessing that I’d copped out of doing any proper cooking since the family had arrived. Anyway, when we got home, the bird was unwrapped and son-in-law Paul jumped right in, said words to the effect that we’d already had a couple of those, but weren’t the Turks clever by genetically engineering their birds without wings. Well, J stood looking at him open-mouthed, ‘It’s true’ he said ‘Alan told me.’ J collapsed in fits of laughter and the rest of us joined in – but not Paul, Paul was not amused, in fact Paul was bloody livid at being taken in. He felt humiliated and our tear-streaked faces didn’t help one jot.

As you can imagine, I ‘dined out’ on this story for many, many months and because I tend to get a bit animated when relating the latest bit of padding to any tale (J calls it hyperbole), it tends to draw spectators from around the immediate area. Which brings me to the only bit of this story that is speculation; there was one time when I noticed a chap at the next table who had slightly receding hair, and a striped shirt and a waistcoat (I’m sure he had trousers as well but I wasn’t paying that much attention). As he listened he kept writing in a notebook and I never gave it any thought until a few of years later. Sometime in 2004-5 my daughter sent me a present of Louis de Bernieres’ new book ‘Birds Without Wings’; in hardback, complete with the little story ‘A Day Out With Mehmet Erbil’. It weighed a bomb and cost a fortune to post but my darling daughter never gives such matters any consideration. She’s seen the title and immediately thought of her dear old dad and his silly tale of the genetically engineered, wingless chickens. The book was a great read and I loved the Mehmet supplement.

Now, my question is this; was that chap at the next table who I’d like to think he was? If he was, then was my story the spark that lit the flame of a really wonderful book? If he wasn’t then how do you account for the coincidence because, let’s face it, who has ever heard of a bird without wings? Even the Dodo had wings! What do you think, dear reader?

I know, I really do need to get out more often!

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü

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