Iran Life – The Kindness Of Strangers

woman and cleric Mashad IranMashad was an experiential disaster – a depressing waste of time and air fare! It is a fast-growing, modern city of two and a half  million people close to the Afghan and Turkmenistan border. Its name means ‘Place of Martyrs’ and its raison d’être is that the 8th Shiite imam, Ali al-Reza was murdered there 1200 years ago and it has become a place of pilgrimage as a result. The shrine is, after Mecca, the most visited place on the planet for Muslims with in excess of 20 million visitors each year. It is in a state of constant expansion, and whilst the tile-work is typically Iranian and pretty gorgeous the underlying concrete is not. The oldest and most important parts of the shrine are off-limits to non-muslims and to visit any parts require women to cover themselves with a burqa and stay separate from men – great for visitors from other cultures! The first photo sums the place up for me – a conversation where she can’t look at him and he won’t look at her! If you do decide to visit the bits that are open to you you will be escorted by an ‘indoctrination squad’  from the visitor information office.

Mashad lies along the ancient Silk Road and has been home to some of the renowned Persian poets like Ferdowsi, philosophers, artists and singers. 120kms to the west of the town is the shrine and grave of the great mathematician, astronomer, engineer and poet Omar Khayyám, assuredly a place worth an uncomfortable ride in a taxi to see. Nope! The biggest attraction was the display of oriental tea pots at the tea house! Take our advice and give Mashad a miss – the turbulence on the flight to get there was far more interesting than the destination!!

at least the gardens were nice and the teapots interesting

I said that I found Mashad depressing and so perhaps I should explain – the sight of thousands of brain-dead people, particularly women, giving in to ritualistic wailing and crying as soon as they enter the shrine of a bloke who was poisoned in 818 is enough to take away my will to live! This, along with other religious pageantry is beyond me and I despair for the future for humanity whenever it crosses my path. I have no problem with personal faith – that is a crutch that anyone is entitled to hobble along with, but please respect the rights of others, including orang-utangs, to manage without having it rammed in our faces!

On a positive note, we actually left Mashad by train after a couple of days! In the restaurant car we had the misfortune to be engaged in conversation by an imam. This imam was 71 years of age (our contemporary); he has studied the holy Qur’ån in the holy city of Qom for 50 of those years – a Koranic scholar indeed! And, he was asking us (I say ‘us’, but he wouldn’t look at J, even when she forced her way into the conversation) our opinion about why the Islamic Revolution had happened – a miscalculation on his part, perhaps! We expounded on recent history; the overthrow by the British and US of the first elected democratic Iranian government of Mohammed Mossadegh (photo) and the imposition of the despotic Riza Shah.

first democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran overthrown by US/UKThis followed by the leftist revolution that ousted the shah and then its takeover/sandbagging by the Islamists and the creation of the Islamic Republic. Factual history was not his strong point – he proceeded to deliver a lecture, sans all the murdered leftists, that had me ‘requesting’ that he shut up and let the interpreter interpret! Luckily for him, and us, the train stopped for everyone who wanted to get off for prayers and we never saw him again!

I realise that this is a disjointed way to tell a story, but I want to include the following because it is relevant to the ‘kindness of strangers’ in the title.

J and I were sitting in our hotel foyer in the city of Kerman when we were engaged in conversation by a very distinguished-looking gentleman by the name of Mohammed who was in town on business. Mohammed had been a fighter pilot in the Shah’s air force, had trained in the US and had fought during the Iran-Iraq War. Our conversation ranged over many things; internal and external politics; sanctions and the death of Mohammed’s wife just a few years earlier from cancer. Sanctions had deprived his wife of the treatments/medicines she needed to have a fighting chance of survival. It was a sad and disturbing tale related with great dignity and suppressed anger – not towards the peoples of the US and its so-called allies in the ‘innernashunal communidy’, but towards the war criminals who lead those countries.

old hammam in Kerman Iran coverted to a tea house

the beautiful teashop

Time flew and we were soon enough parting to get on with our day. We were visiting the delightful old bazaar and found, by chance, a wonderfully old and beautifully restored hamam that had been converted to a very popular local tea house. As we sat sipping and soaking up the atmosphere Mohammed walked in and we called him over. He ordered up tea and a water pipe and refreshing bowls of iced ‘pudding’ and more conversation flowed. He left just ahead of us and when we called the waiter over to settle up we found that our tab had been paid ‘ by the gentleman who has just left’. A small kindness from someone who had, not long before, been a stranger.

tea with a gentleman – our only photo of Mohammed

the refreshing local, iced ‘pudding’

 Keep that in mind as we get this disjointed post back on track:

Compare and contrast this with the town of Shãhrud where we hopped off the train for a couple of days’ excursions to the mountains and deserts. Shãhrud is a delight of water and trees and ordinariness. It sits at the base of the mountains by the edge of the great desert and there is much to see and enjoy. I want to concentrate on our drive out into the desert. We spent quite a lot of time observing and photographing camels! There are loads of them wandering about being nice to their babies and dust bathing!

upon reflection

upon reflection

modern camelboys

modern day camelboys

We eventually turned up at a gate to a compound in a deserted village and tooted our horn. A camel checked us out, followed by a herder.

you rang, sir!

. . you rang, Sir?

We were invited in to examine the stock of youngsters and then to drink tea with him and his nephew at his home. His house was a breeze block hovel; dirt floor; smoke-blackened walls; plastic carpet. We settled down and made ourselves at home.

camel herders at home Iran

two members of the ‘Axis of Evil’

After he had set the teapot brewing he addressed J – ‘You are not from this country’ he said, ‘you are not used to wearing that thing’, indicating her scarf. ‘Please, you are in my home, make yourself comfortable and take it off if you would prefer’.

Can you feel my emotions as I write and you read this?

We went on to discuss, at his instigation, world affairs and sanctions in particular and how he couldn’t buy barley for his camels (this has been a hard time with lower than usual rainfall this year and so less for the animals to graze – they are thin).

a few days old

adobe ruins Iran

the remains of a once thriving community

they maintain the qanat that brings water from those mountains!

the two guys maintain the qanat to bring water from those mountains

What the f$%^ the US has against people with life-threatening illness and desperately poor camel herders in Iran is beyond me (and him) but we promised that we would at least blog about it, for what it is worth! All that said, what has stuck in our minds is the gentle hospitality, kindness and thoughtfulness of a camel herder and his nephew in the great desert of central Iran and the dignified widower in Kerman. May their god go with them and may barley and medicine, along with everything else, be removed from the list of embargoed goods, and may western, colonialist despotism be removed from the lives of people everywhere. Inşallah!

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü

Yazd – Adobe, Wind Towers, Qanats and Tesco

More from our Iran Life trip. Let’s start with a couple of general views of the old city (photos are mostly mine with a few wiki-commons and photos of photos mixed in):

Yazd Iran general viewYazd rooftopsYazd is ancient and unique! It has been continuously occupied for more than 3000 years and its remote, desert location has served it well leaving it largely untouched by the ebb and flow of kings and empires. With the rise of Islam in Persia, Yazd became a refuge for Zoroastrians and by paying a levy they, their religion and their places of worship were left alone. Islam has only become dominant here in more recent times.

The city is one of the largest in the world to be built of adobe with even new constructions being clad in this durable, eye-pleasing material. Situated at the heart of the Dasht-e-Kavir desert, Yazd has thrived by the skill and ingenuity of its architects and engineers. Architects who developed the world’s first air conditioning/refrigeration system known as wind towers and engineers who created the amazing qanats, an underground system of countless hundreds of miles of canals that bring and distribute vast quantities of water from the mountain water tables. These techniques, discovered and perfected in Yazd, have been exported worldwide.

The towers are capable of drawing air down over a fountain of cooling water or drawing air through the underground qanats into the basement and then upwards to cool the entire house. They are used to keep glacial ice from the mountains and maintain subterranean water reservoirs at near freezing throughout the summer. The ‘sticks’ you can see are an ancient form of earthquake-proofing for the structures.

dolatabad gardens

probably the world’s tallest wind tower at Dolatabad Gardens


underground water cistern cooled by wind towers


J with friends and wind towers

Which leads us nicely to the qanats. Developed in Persia and perfected by Yazdi engineers some 3000 years ago they consist of a series of vertical shafts connected by a gently sloping tunnel system that taps into the water tables at the base of mountains. Water is often delivered from hundreds of miles away, feeding villages and towns in a strictly controlled and regulated way that has lasted for millennia. J remembers well (pun intended) seeing these strange circles across the desert as she flew down to Persepolis for a gig just before the revolution that overthrew the Shah.

Iran qanat viewed from the air

qanat tunnel Iran

qanat tunnel – in the tunnels feeding the desert towns the flow is often prodigious

The Water Museum in Yazd will give you a great insight into the construction and sheer scale of this amazing system – even the National Museum gardens in Tehran are fed by a qanat! Here is a photo from their exhibition of a windlass being used for moving both people and spoil.



qanat-cooled canoodling room underneath our restaurant

Finally a few random pics from the two days we were in Yazd:


old door with knockers for men and women (this is true, I promise)


the ‘lady-shaped’ knocker


the ‘man-shaped’ knocker (looks like it’s got a limp to me)


OK! I admit I have a thing about knockers – this one is for tall people of either sex!


a Boffer, his squeeze and a chipped mug


sugar loaves


another stunning bathroom tile job!


a very still life


finally, if they don’t do something about this it will kill off the town centre (taken on the road just outside Yazd)


Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü


Iran Life – Yazd, Towers Of Silence

Every journey begins with the first step’ – or words to that effect. So said Confuse Us a smart Chinese guy from the Lu dynasty about 450BCE. With that in mind we took our first ‘steps’ right over a couple of mature, laid-back Istanbul street dogs of our acquaintance. As we did so we whispered a quick ‘Thanks, SDs’ for the info that gave us the push we needed to get on with this particular ‘trip-of-a-lifetime’. That said, with so much to cover, where to begin? The toss of a coin, and the ancient desert city of Yazd it is – which suits very well because it was one of our must see places.

Our young friends from Tehran, who we first met in Istanbul, met up with us here and we spent a brilliant couple of days together exploring the city. (l-r guide Feraidoon, Siavash, Bahman, Shardi and J)

Yazd has been around for a very long time – sustained and made tolerable by life-bringing qanats and cooling wind towers, of which, more later. Often referred to as the longest permanently occupied place on Earth (a claim that Damascus might dispute), there are some who say it has been occupied for more than 3000 years – others 6000. Whatever, it was and still is the beating heart of Zoroastrianism – fire worshippers who revere the four elements. These days they are not allowed to leave their dead out on the Towers of Silence for the vultures to pick-over, they are buried in concrete lined graves to avoid any contamination of the earth, air, fire or water.


Zoroastrian Fire Temple and Eternal Flame

Zoroastrian eternal flame yazdIt is claimed that this fire has burned continuously since 720CE – Zoroastrians make up a significant minority of the Iranian population at around 5-10%. They, along with Jews and Christians are recognised religious minorities who are free to carry on their faith unmolested.

Zoroastrianism was a major influence that lay at the heart of the once mighty Sasanian Empire that spread from India in the east to Egypt and Turkey in the west between 224-652CE. It was the last Iranian empire before the advent of Islam. Two of the Towers of Silence, open to tourism, can be found on the edge of the city together with the modern Zoroastrian cemetery.

Zoroastrian Tower of Silence Yazd Iran

Yazd Tower of Silence

At the top of the towers there is a flat area with a stone-lined pit all surrounded by a high wall to prevent contamination of earth and wind. Here the bodies were laid out for the birds of the air to consume before the bones were dissolved. All was dealt with by a dedicated ‘volunteer’ who never left the place for fear of ‘dirtying’ the elements or people outside. An early example of a ‘job for life’! It is an eerie, other-worldly place.

Yazd Zoroastrian Tower of Silence and complex

view from the top – the complex and modern cemetery with Yazd in the background

On the subject of religion, which looms large in this country, we learned that there are only three calls to prayer for Shi’ite Muslims (dawn, noon, dusk). The calls are gentle and pleasing on the ear (compared to the raucus, over-amplified bellowings from mosques in Turkey) but are all-pervasive and can be heard everywhere including the metro! Religious texts are plastered everywhere in towns and cities – a sort of in-your-face subliminal indoctrination.

I could go on, but let’s bring this post to a close with a view of the magnificent Amir Chakmaq Square and Mosque. More about this fascinating ancient city soon.


Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü

ps there are still problems with WP after they made yet another version upgrade – I’d have loved to give you some links to the content but at least the photos are here. Onwards and upwards!

A Bit Of A Shower

J and I got back from Iran to a couple of things (apart from a mound of emails) that are not every day matters, especially at this time of year. First, there was a lot of unseasonal but very welcome rain – cloudbursts even. Second, there was a group of walkers from Manchester that we’d committed to take on a hike through our mountain paradise.

It very soon became apparent that the two were linked – the ‘Shower’ from Manchester had brought their notorious weather with them! They also turned out to be a bunch of  (mostly) experienced ‘yompers’ who were delightfully interesting company to boot! I’ve never been one to believe that ‘interesting hikers’ was, like ‘military intelligence’, an oxymoron – although there are some X-Box players who do!

some intermittent drizzle

IMG_2143_1 IMG_2144_1_1 IMG_2145_1_1 IMG_2146_1_1 IMG_2147_1_1

followed by a right old shower


Anyway, we had a great time together as they showed me up by being totally unaffected by the heat and inclines whilst this old ‘Boffer’ had leg cramps for the first time in his life. Such was the pity that they felt that at the end of the walk they made a very generous donation to the Okçular Book Project as well as buying a good number of books. What can I say? Our children and village thank you – a deluge of generosity from the Manchester Shower. May your walks be life-long, filled with gentle sunshine and may Lancashire win the County Championship (Not much chance of the last two, eh! You could always try Premium Bonds!)

Alan Fenn, recovering in Okçular Köyü

ps I will get around to Iran Life stories

Iran Life

To paraphrase that old despot and war criminal (gassing Kurds in Mesopotamia in 1920 the Iraqi Revolt) Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill; ‘Iran is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.’

J and I are just back from an amazing, wonderful, depressing, fascinating and stimulating trip to the Islamic Republic. The contrasts and contradictions have been profound. From the intransigent, unbending, unhearing ‘discussion’ on a train with an imam from the holy city of Qom, who has made a life-long study of the Koran, to the quiet kindness of a desperately poor desert-dwelling camel-herder and his nephew. From the ritualised wailing of thousands of pilgrims at the shrine of the murdered Imam Riza in Mashad (the shrine attracts more than 20 million pilgrims every year, second only to Mecca, and the murder happened more than 1200 years ago!), to the residents of the ‘Art House’, a shrine to dissent, anarchy and Sponge Bob ‘somewhere in Tehran’. From the insanity of Iranian drivers to the peace, beauty, camels and flowers of the great Dasht-e-Kavir desert and the northern Arborz Mountains. And from the quiet dignity of a gentleman widowed by the wicked Western sanctions that condemned his wife to death by denying her the medicines she needed to treat her cancer, this country with its monumental wonders, culture and delightful people has engraved itself on our hearts and minds. I hope that I can pass on some of what we found so that you too will want to leave your footprint in this incredible place.

iranian beerLest I get carried away with it all (and carry you with me), I need to relate a story that was whispered to us over an intoxicating glass of ‘Islamic beer’ (non-alcoholic) that might add a little bit of perspective. It goes like this:

‘Not long ago there was this devout, god-fearing, pleasures-of-the-flesh denying imam lying contentedly on his death bed. He knew for sure that he was headed for heaven because everything that he had ever read told him so.


houriSoon enough he passed over the great divide and awoke to find himself where he had always dreamed of and longed to be. He was surrounded by beautiful, flower-filled meadows with gently flowing streams; blossom-laden trees provided dappled shade; gentle music and song filled the air; those who shared this paradise with him spoke softly, smiled often and never argued. And then there were the gorgeous, nubile houris wandering about the place – afterlife was just perfect.

Too perfect, in fact, because our pious cleric was soon pretty much bored to death with it all – déjà vu all over again because even the houris, like his newly liberated wife (who, incidentally, thought she had died and gone to heaven when he popped his clogs) failed to tickle his libido! He took to wandering about alone, muttering and arguing with himself, shunned by the other denizens of paradise.

One day, as he wandered some distant corner of perfection, he chanced across a wall with a great iron-studded door and a small window that stood ajar. Above the door was a sign that read ‘HELL’ in large red letters. From the open window the cleric could hear the sounds of great merriment, singing, music, lively discussion – arguments even. A veritable party in full swing! Drawn by the sounds he looked in through the window and was amazed by what he saw – and even more by what he didn’t see – if this was Hell then he felt cheated by being dumped in awful, boring, perfect Heaven. It was time to take action and so he rang the bell.

His call was answered by a smartly dressed door-devil sporting a shiny evening suit who explained politely that ‘No!’ he couldn’t just walk in and wander around. He’d need to go back to Heaven and apply for a visitor’s visa at the Hellian embassy. This he did and in no time at all he was back at the frontier door where he was duly stamped in for a two week visit by the unsmiling and rather bored looking immigration devil.

Our cleric had a whale of a time – he partied, laughed a lot, was treated like royalty, ate exotic food, drank finest Shiraz wine, chatted-up the girls, watched the odd raunchy stage show and generally made up for lost time. Sadly, his visit was soon over and as he left, his head ringing with cries of ‘Come and visit us again soon’ and ‘We’ll be waiting for you’, his suitcase felt as heavy as his heart.

Back in heaven he was soon bored out of his brain with the mind-numbing routine of the perfect afterlife. He longed to be back in Hell partying with the best of them. So it was that he went back to the Hellian embassy where he applied for permanent residency. The smiling and very charming diplomatic devil asked him if he was sure because such permits were one-way, there would be no going back if he changed his mind. Fuelled by the memories of his two weeks of holiday the imam signed on the dotted line, picked up his documents and headed for the doorway to Hell – he was happy and smiling and felt as if he were walking on air! Ahead lay a new afterlife that was one to die for.

At the entrance to Hell the door-devil examined his documents, smiled, closed the great iron-studded door with a clang and ushered him through the body scanner and into Hell proper. As he stepped through he was met by a wall of noise, wailing and gnashing of teeth. Devils with pitchforks and cattle-prods were tormenting people at every turn  and the smell of burning, tortured flesh was everywhere. As our cleric recoiled from the reality that confronted him, he turned to the devil aghast – ‘What is this place? When I was here before everything looked wonderful to me. I so wanted to be here.’

‘Ah!’ smiled the devil, ‘when you were here before you were a tourist. Now you live here!’

koh-i-noordiamondThe moral? There are more facets to exploring another culture that on the Koh-i-Noor diamond – always look under the bed and behind the curtain! We’ll do our best to offer more than just amazing mosques, incredible columns, scintillating ceilings and the like – although there will be plenty of those!

Next post the story begins. Welcome to ‘Iran Life’.

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü

ps having tried for several days to sort out a glitch that has happened with WordPress whilst we’ve been away, this post is sans any media/images etc. Frankly, I have no idea what to do – I’ve tried everything I know including reinstall several times. I can’t use html or add tags either and the thought of having to start over is just too daunting and time consuming with our limited bandwidth and lifespan!

pps as you can see we’re up and running again – for WP users it was the ‘Wordfence’ security plugin that caused the problem.


Off The Grid

Just in case someone has noticed, I’ve been preoccupied with sister, daughter and grandson these past two weeks and no time for posts. Sis went home yesterday, daughter and grandson head off this evening and J and I head for a grand tour of Iran pretty soon after and will be sans electronic devices. Should have plenty to post about when we get back and the time and inclination to do it!

Glorious Persia, here we come!

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü

Where The Bee Sucks . .

. . or ‘Sips’ or ‘Sups’ and is first line of Ariel’s song from Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’. It is also the reason for the Bard’s reputation for bawdiness and the cause of many a ‘six of the best’ across the backsides of smutty-minded little grammar school oiks! Let me explain – it was the habit of printers in days of yore to elongate the first ‘s’ of a word so that it looked much like a lower-case ‘f’. If you carry out this substitution in the first line of Ariel’s solo you will quickly understand the delight found by low-minded little brats and the ready use of the cane by teachers of Eng. Lit. For those of you who struggle with these things the following may help to enlighten you (you are, of course, welcome to view the original if ever you visit):



That said, how on earth I got here and what it has to do with this post is a mystery!

This post is actually about orchids; something this old ‘Boffer’ takes great delight in without pretending to know much about them. They are, just like we humans, complex and amazing in their variety; dependent upon ‘substances'; many are scroungers who sponge off others; charming deceivers well able to propagate across ‘races’ and decidedly promiscuous!

I could go on about the 26,000 odd naturally occurring species; the fact that if David Attenborough had bothered to look around when he was ‘Walking With Dinosaurs’ he would have seen teeming orchids being trampled underfoot – they have been around doing their thing for a very long time. Here in Turkey there are some 150+ species – European varieties as opposed to the more exotic tropical sorts. Some might think them drab and insignificant, or not see them at all and pass them by with no more thought than the dinosaurs – they would be missing so much!

I started to ‘hunt’ orchids around Okçular about seven or eight years ago and there is hardly a season that goes by that I do not ‘discover’ new species – not new to science, just new to me. So far I’ve spotted and photographed 36 different species – a remarkable number – this year has seen two more added, one of them (Ophrys homeri) very rare here in Turkey with (as far as I can discover) only two other sightings.

Ophrys homeri – Homer’s Orchid

Often lumped together as ‘Bee Orchids’, Ophrys are mistresses of deception that entice male insects with sexy good looks or exotic scents that drive these silly males into a frenzy of sexual desire – a case of ‘Wham-bam thank you Sam!’ (I just knew I’d find a link between smutty oiks; Shakespeare, bees and orchids)

Ophrys sicula

a Tongue Orchid – Serapias politisii first spotted last year – this photo taken a few days ago just over the garden wall

ophrys mamosa005_1

Ophrys mamosa

For those of you who are getting bored with orchids, my bug-crazy, 13 year-old grandson arrives next week. We are going to be attempting to collect the dried-up skins of dragonfly nymphs of a very rare species of damselfly for researchers in Holland, so I’ll be boring you with that next! Oh! Wish us luck.

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü

Hobbies and Pastimes – No1 ‘Needlepoint’


Poor J has had a real bummer of a week! Seven days ago she woke up a virtual cripple with debilitating lower back pain – there was no rhyme nor reason to it, it was just there!


I could certainly empathise with the pain she was in having been through years of agony and then enforced early retirement. So it was that she started on a regime of rest, muscle-relaxants, pain-killers and anti-spasmodics. It was to no avail and so Tuesday saw us in consultation with the neurosurgeon at our local hospital.


What an ebullient character he turned out to be. After the usual battery of tests and scans it was ‘hands-on’ time as he bounced around his office, prodding, poking and bending poor J’s extremities all accompanied by his booming and jovial running commentary. I should add that all this is happening in a jolly mix of pidgin-english and Turkish which is being translated for my benefit simultaneously by J (who understands perfectly) and our charming Ukrainian-born translator. Taking notes at the desk is Mr Neurosurgeon’s secretary/assistant.


Finally, it was prognosis time – no trapped nerves or arthritic bits to worry about – this was all to do with J’s sacroiliac joint and was very treatable (he said).


He prescribed this and that and finally added that she would need an injection in her ‘bum’ (his word, not mine) every day for a week, either at the hospital or at the clinic which had J a bit discombobulated at the thought and the inconvenience.


My hand shot up, ‘I’m good for that!’ I exclaimed. The chance of needling J for a week was not something I wanted to pass up. ‘As long as it’s into the muscle I can do that!’


Mr Neurosurgeon looked skeptical, ‘Just what experience have you had of giving injections?’ he asked.


‘I’ve injected the dog many times’ I claimed (which is true), ‘injecting her will be no different!’


Satisfied with my qualifications, Mr Neurosurgeon decides, for good measure, that I need instruction on exactly where to stick the needle. ‘Turn around’, he says to J ‘and drop your trousers.’ There is a sharp intake of breath from the lady secretary at the desk. The rest of us, Mr Neurosurgeon, our Ukrainian translator, me and, of course, J are quite unflustered – dropping ones pants to a doctor of either sex is pretty normal.

In the interests of accurate journalism I need to state that I’ve touched-up the lines for clarity as J keeps washing them off! You can make out three neat puncture marks in the ‘top third’ as per instructions (original and genuine model – no photoshopping)


Flourishing his ball-point pen, Mr Neurosurgeon exposes J’s right buttock (discreetly), ‘It must be divided into thirds’ he said as he drew a large cross on her arse in true Irish style, all of which reduced us to howls of laughter – even the secretary eventually joined in as she tried to hide her embarrassment behind some document folder or other.


Eventually order was restored and I was solemnly instructed to make the injection ‘here, in the top third’ as he pointed at the top right quadrant!


I declined the offer of a practice go under supervision in favour of testing out my ‘needle-point’ skills in private! Every cloud has a silver lining!

my ‘needlepoint’ kit


Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü Health Clinic


ps I’m pleased to report that J seems to be on the mend and I now feel free to share my pleasure at helping her healing process – there are also four more jabs to go!


Edge Of The Abyss

by_the_skin_of_our_teeth_by_celestial_moo-dEvery year we are drawn back. Every year we are convinced that it will all be over; that one of nature’s little gems will have toppled over the edge; gone, swallowed by a land-slip. And yet, every year so far, it has clung on – if it had teeth then it would be by the very skin of those teeth!

J and I first spotted this gem about seven years ago when we were exploring an old, badly eroded forestry track which had been carved out of the mountainside leaving a great, vertical cliff-face to one side. What caught our eye was a hint of creamy white that seemed to glow in a patch of sunlight whilst surrounded by sombre greens and browns. Getting close was impossible given its position on the lip of a nasty drop with a very steep slope behind. Photographs enabled us to identify it as Orchis provincialis the Provence Orchid.

Provence Orchid clinging to the edge (how it looks from the track)

Every year heavy Winter rains wash away sections of this track and cliff-face; every year we are convinced our little gem will be gone; every year, so far, we have been delighted to rediscover this delicate beauty clinging to the very edge of existence.

the best I could do with a 300mm lens and trembling knees clinging to the cliff face!

Here’s a decent shot from WikiMedia:


Despite a lot of looking we have never found another specimen – the orchid is fairly rare in Turkey and found in just a few scattered locations.

Whilst on our wander up this track we were amazed to find the first Armenian Tulip - Tulipa armena ssp lycica blooming at least a month early – ‘Global Warming’/’Climate Change’ I suppose! on a positive note, the Corporate Capitalists have decided to stop denying the phenomena – now they’ve decided that there is nothing they can/will do about it apart from ‘manage’ the consequences. Great! ‘Fiddling while Rome burns’ comes to mind – as does teetering on the ‘Edge of the Abyss’!

Alan Fenn,Okçular Köyü

Home and Away Soon

Before J and I scurried off to Ankara to pick up our visas from the embassy of the IR of Iran, we had ‘discovered’ our first new species of orchid of the season. Not that it’s new to science, you understand, just that we haven’t managed to record it and add it to the list of 31 or 32 growing around Okçular that we know of.

iran visa

exciting, or what!

Anyway, back to the new discovery – when we first found it I hadn’t got my main camera with me and had made do with a compact. Nothing wrong with these, but I do like a bit of flexibility, so yesterday we wandered off in search of the original and any others that might be around. The little gem was still hiding under its bush and there wasn’t another family member to be seen. I was amazed, given the rain there has been whilst we were away, that it had survived in any condition worth a photo – but there it was, slightly care-worn but still a beauty!

Crawling about in the undergrowth is getting harder by the year and there is a deal of huffing and puffing that accompanies the following photos. I think they were worth it, especially as ‘moody’ is my thing just now!


Ophrys lucis – looking ‘moody’ under natural light


and with a bit of light added

This fellow was keeping a watchful eye on the ‘goings-on’ and it really did let me get this close!


Chalcides ocellatus – Ocellated Skink

After the cold snap the first of the O. anatolica and  O. italica are emerging . .

Anatolian Orchid

Orchis anatolica – Anatolian Orchid

Orchis italica – Italian Orchid

. . and finally, one of the rarest plants on the planet . .

Alkanna mughlae – a critically endangered endemic member of the Borage Family that is found almost exclusively in Okçular’s Kocadere valley (doesn’t look much, does it?)

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü

'burası Türkiye!' – 'this is Turkey!' – living, loving and travelling Turkey


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