Really Getting My Goat

Turkish çay
Turkish çay

When J and I first moved to OkçularVillage nearly 15 years ago we were a source of great interest and incredulity for our neighbours. The fact that we were unable (or unwilling) to muster up a three-course meal, or even an assortment of chocolate biscuits, at the drop of hat whenever a bunch of them dropped by to satisfy their curiosity filled them with wonder. The way we made the tea we offered them was treated with great suspicion and, because so many were disbelieving of such adulteration and called around to check for themselves, gave rise to the rumour that we were running a tea shop. (This is true – we were told about it by a friend from the next town who had heard about it!)

Then there was the issue of chickens and a vegetable plot. ‘No!’ we informed our open mouthed komşular (neighbours), ‘No chickens, and we’ll get our veg fresh from the market each week. Kolay! (Easy)’ Allah allah! (My God! Or words to that effect) These yabanci (foreigners) are a weird lot!

Such was the level of concern about us and such is the depth of kindness of these people towards us afflicted types that a plot was hatched.

The chicken issue was solved by sending up a kid on a bike or hubby on a tractor, every now and again, clutching a still warm, plucked/unplucked cadaver.

The veg plot, on a scale of 1-10, was at least a 5 and required some serious logistical planning. One morning a crew of ladies arrived, replete with çok çapa (lots of hoes) and trays of seedlings. We stood open-mouthed as they set about a section of our virgin plot with great gusto and even greater verbals. In no time at all we had the plot fit for a ‘Bill and Ben the Flowerpot Men’ set, with nary a ‘Weeeeee-eeed!’ anywhere and the potential for more peppers, beans, tomatoes and aubergines than any normal couple could consume in a month of Sundays.

Want these things or not, once you have them you have to put the work in to maintain them or face the tut-tutting of neighbours. Same with the olive trees that were grafted for us – very nice to have them but the olives from the market are nicer because they’re less work! Actually, that’s not true – the damn things have to be picked anyway (otherwise the neighbours will be on our case) and then we have to find somebody from miles away (in case they talk) who wants them! Ho-hum!

Don’t run away with the idea that we were ungrateful – the kindness of our new neighbours was, and still is, pretty wonderful. Just remember that we were culturally inept and naive and still immersed in what passed for neighbourly intercourse back where we came from. For those dirty minded little smirkers amongst you, a bloke was shot dead down our track for indulging in the other sort of neighbourly intercourse just before we arrived!

Anyway, let’s move on because what came next were the goats! Our house sits on a bit of hillside and having established that we were not going to transform it into a nut farm our practical neighbours told us that we must have a goat! A date was fixed and at the appointed time we were led in procession up the mountain to meet with ‘Keçi Hanım’ (Goat Lady).

cuddly young goats

Now, selecting a young goat is not easy – all of them are cute and cuddly. Having drunk tea that had been brewed properly, I wandered off to get my goat. Eventually I settled on a beautiful little grey thing with pricked ears and delightful habit of nibbling at my clothing! I picked it up and carried it back to the house – just as J appeared around the corner with a cute little black and white thing with floppy ears and a delightful habit of nibbling at her clothing!

I did not want a great herd of goats and confronted J with my resolve to keep just the grey one. ‘You horrible bloody man!’ said she, ‘They’re social creatures; you can’t just keep one on its own!’ That’s how I won that argument and we ended up with the two goats I’d always wanted!

When it was time to leave we made a lead from some twine and were about to set off when Keçi Hanım stopped us, ‘What are you doing? They’re far to young to walk all that way, you must carry them.’ We didn’t realise it then, but that set the pattern for our future relationship; like kids everywhere, they had us wrapped around their little hooves!

They were utterly delightful, sweet-smelling, intelligent creatures that learned to trampoline over the ever increasing height of the fences I constructed to keep them out of the garden. They collaborated to overcome any challenges to their freedom to please themselves. They never forgot the little tricks I taught them with the reward of treats when they got it right – which culminates in pincer attacks on both trouser pockets and holes in your pants where you least want them! Whenever they out-smarted us they would look us in the eye, roll back their lips and give us that bleat that sounds just like ‘He-he-he-he-he!’

Our neighbours would double up with shrieks of laughter when we went for walks around the area – me, J, our dog and cat, (which loved to wander with us) – and two goats. It was a hoot!

'Behave yourself!'

As these two goats grew in size, they grew in strength and independence and couldn’t be allowed to wander about out of our control; tethers became the order of the day. Pretty soon we began to bear the scars and rope burns from being dragged through hedges backwards. This pair of terrorists plotted by night and carried out their plots by day; they were crafty and totally without morals, one minute smooching and the next tearing pockets open. ‘He-he-he-he-he!’ The final straw for both of us was when I was dragged head first down a rock-strewn hillside by two runaway goats because I’d been stupid enough to loop their ropes around my wrists. ‘He-he-he-he-he-he!’

When I could walk again I went and lied to my neighbour about them being just like our children, beautiful, gentle creatures which would fit in well with her existing small flock. She was reluctant at first but I convinced her in the end and we delivered them soon afterwards. Every time we drove or walked by her place those sods would be on the hillside, curling their lips and ‘He-he-he-he-ing’ at us.

Several months went by and one day they weren’t there any more – I wonder what happened to them – ‘He-he-he-he-he!’

 

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü

Really Getting My Goat

Mister Bird

Little Owl
Little Owl checking out the goings-on in the spare bedroom

My fellow villagers are a funny old lot – farmers almost to a man (or woman) and mostly country born and bred. Even so, when I ask them what that is – indicating a dragonfly or cricket – ‘Böcek!’ they exclaim. And that? (a beetle) ‘Böcek!’

It’s the same with birds – what do you call that? (jay) ‘Kuş!’ And that? (robin) ‘Kuş!’ There are few exceptions and this continues to astound me, even after 15 years.

When I was a kid growing up in the countryside we bumpkins knew the names of every reptile, insect and bird species whose eggs we plundered for our collections (do be forgiving, nobody had heard of environmentalism back then; this was how it was!). Many of the creatures were known by their local name – it was years before I realised that a ‘Throssle’ was a Song Thrush. Here in Okçular there doesn’t seem to be the same interest, a böcek is a böcek and a kuş is a kuş – what else do you need to know?

Mind you, there is one particular exception, ‘Baykuş’ or Mister Bird. Mister Bird is an owl, which is a dignified and appropriate term of address for a most dignified and intelligent looking creature.

Owls are not let off the ‘böcek’ or ‘kuş’ hook entirely. There are Little Owls, Scops Owls, Tawny Owls and other owls – but they are, to a bird, all labelled with the same monika – ‘Baykuş’ – Mister Birds to a man (or woman).

Tawny Owl

Turks are also a bit superstitious about owls, seeing them as bringers of bad luck – harbingers of doom and such. All of which causes our neighbours some consternation because for a number of years we’ve had a beautiful Tawny Owl living in one of our chimney pots. Not only consternation but incredulity that we are happy about it! In fact, we give off so many happy vibes that, this winter a second Tawny has moved into an adjacent condo – two down, two to go! We also get visits from Little Owls and Scops Owls.

Living where we do at the edge of the forest, without street lights (another source of neighbourly worry and consternation) and other distractions, we can sit outside or lie abed and listen to these beautiful creatures calling and answering each other. When the stars are out or the moon is high they add extra enchantment to an already spellbinding experience.

Eurasian Eagle Owl (Bubo bubo)

Soon after we moved here, J was driving home quite late one evening and had stopped the car just outside our gate. I went out to see what the problem was and was treated to the most fantastic sight – standing in the beam of the headlights was an enormous bird – an Eagle Owl! J’s nose was glued to the windscreen watching this magnificent creature from just a few metres away. The owl sat there for a while before gathering itself and lifting off silently and disappearing into the night like something returning to another dimension. This is the only Eagle Owl I’ve been fortunate enough to see here – the experience is burned into my memory banks.

I don’t have any photos of that night, so we must make do with these stock images.

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü

and just after you've really pissed it off!
Mister Bird

Yuvarlakçay – Two Years On – The T-Shirt

Occupy cartoon
'Occupy Everything'

My last post, ‘Yuvarlakçay – Two Years On’ complete with video of the ‘Lionesses’ raised a lot of interest, especially via social networking. Many found the story of protest against corporate greed and bureaucratic vindictiveness heartwarming and fascinating and were encouraged; especially in these times of protest and ‘occupy’ around the world.

I was amazed to learn, for example, that some students in the US were ‘aghast’ that community organising could happen ‘in a country like Turkey’. For me it illustrates very clearly how wrapped up in ourselves we ‘Westerners’ can be – how Orientalism lives on by feeding on a diet of ignorance, intolerance and general lack of interest in the lives, culture and social conditions of so many of our fellow human beings.

That said, this post is about a quick follow-up on the situation for the Yuvarlakçay River and the villagers of Pınarköy who were the backbone of the resistance.

military at Yuvarlakcay
the military arrive . .

Many of you asked if the battle was won, and my answer was a provisional ‘Yes!’ Today came

Yuvarlakcay villagers stop military
. . and the villagers stop them

confirmation from the Yuvarlakçay Protection Platform (organising committee and supporters) that the law suits against the following bureaucratic organisations of the state had all been successful – Governorship of Muğla (our province); State Waterworks Directorate; General Directorate of Forests; Muğla Provincial Administration; Muğla Provincial Directorate of Environment; Muğla Regional Office for Protection of Cultural and Natural Heritage; Environmental Protection Authority for Special Areas; Ministry of Culture and the Energy Market Regulation Authority.

I invite you to read that list again – and applaud the efforts of our pro bono lawyer Berna and the determination of the people!

Yuvarlakcay general assembly occupy style
General Assembly just like the Occupy Movement

The Government filed law suits against a number of protestors by way of intimidation – all

Yuvarlakcay women chained to tree
women chained themselves to 'Tree 23' to prevent cutting

have been dismissed!

17 villagers were targeted by the government and had fines imposed for so-called ‘illegal’ buildings – we are awaiting the outcome of appeals. Whatever the result people will stand together and share any burden.

The campaign raised a fighting fund of TL41,491 (Turkish Lira) from personal donations and TL13,390 from activities. After all expenses (the

Yuvarlakcay 'Tree 23' is now a Wishing Tree
'Tree 23' saved and now a Wishing Tree

lawyers worked for free but the courts, advertising, fuel, food, media, etc cost money) there was a surplus of TL1184 which was donated for projects at Pınarköy Junior School, as previously agreed.

Meanwhile, to quote the Platform and villagers, ‘our eyes will be wide open for any threat.’

Just writing this has made me feel good – I hope our success will inspire you and others to stand up against all that is rotten in the economic system. As a fellow blogger commented ‘People Power At Its Best!’

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü

 

Yuvarlakcay villagers on tree-planting
villagers march with new saplings to replace cut trees
Yuvarlakcay planting trees
planting for our future
Yuvarlakcay Torchlight Protest
New Years Eve 2009 Torchlight protest

Yuvarlakcay New Years Eve 2009

Yuvarlakçay – Two Years On – The T-Shirt

‘Jesus Wept!’

As my mother used to say – ‘Jesus wept!’ Well, he would have done if he’d had to deal with this Turkish bureaucracy!

local bureaucrat

I know, I know! Sweeping generalisations are not the way to go – but bureaucracies the world over are a pain in the arse, mainly because they are created by arse’oles – and that’s not a generality, it’s a bloody fact!

Before I go any further and dig myself into a hole, I want to say this; J and I have never paid a back-hander to anyone in the 15 years we’ve lived here. In that time we have always been treated with consideration, kindness and understanding by the rank and file bureaucrats that we have dealt with and today has been no exception.

As Bill Clinton once famously didn’t say, ‘It’s the system, stupid!’

So, what did the system do to us? Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin . .

As I said a moment ago, J and I have lived here for nigh on 15 years and in that time we have owned three cars – our present one is just a year old. In those years we have driven all over Turkey and J has done her share behind the wheel. We have been stopped at countless police/jandarma check points and our documents have always checked out. We have also never had an accident, which is just as well because we have just learned that J was not insured for all those kilometres!

How could this be? In 15 years didn’t we ask? Didn’t we check? Of course we did! And everyone, including the police told us there was no problem; J was covered on my insurance. And she would have been – if we had been married!

Before going any further here, I want to make something clear – we are not, and will not be married as a matter of principle. We have been together for many more years that over half of the population of Turkey has been alive – we have children that are older than many of you reading this – we have always shared equally everything we have ever owned, from homes to debts to money in the bank. We have never felt the need to justify our relationship to anyone. Apart from that, J wouldn’t marry me if I was the last bloke on the planet!

Anyway, back to our bureaucratic adventure; we are law-abiding in the main because the last thing either of us (or you) wants is to get dragged into the legal bureaucracy here in Turkey. We needed to get ourselves sorted – and quickly!

Inquiries to insurers and to contacts at the police HQ established that we could put the car registration in the name of a Turk (Yeah! Right!), in which case anybody and their dog could drive the car; or we could get J’s name on the documents as a joint owner and then the insurance covers us both. Remember, if we had known all this at the time we bought the car it could have been done then (take note ye ‘living-in-sinners’).

Off we went to the Notary to do the business. Even though this was the first time they had done such a thing for a yabanci (foreigner) it went fairly smoothly apart from the delays caused by the central computer system which kept crashing. Eventually, hours longer than it should have taken, we were ready to pay the modest fee and have our new document stamped and ready to be taken to the police for their part of the process.

Except that the names of J and my mothers and fathers on the central computer in Ankara did not tally with the (correct) names in our residence permits! There was no way that process could or would move forward until that was sorted, and so off we went to see our nice policeman to request his help. Should be just a matter of explaining that all of the local documentation was correct but that some clerk had been careless inputting those details; right? Wrong!

same faces, same furniture, same system!

Our local people had to tell Muğla, who then have to tell Ankara who will then instruct the clerk to correct the error, with a fair wind and a star to guide us, the process will not be compounded by further errors. It will be Monday at the earliest before that gets done – when it eventually is, we’ll be able to go back to the Notary, pay our fee and get our shiny, new joint ownership documents to what has always been (in our minds if not those of the bureaucratocracy) our joint property.

‘Job done, then’ I hear you say. Well, sort of, because within 30 days we then have to go the Traffik Polis HQ in Muğla and get our new registration document, anyone out there interested in the odds?

Hmmmm! . . . I sense another post coming on!

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü

‘Jesus Wept!’

The Trafik Jandarma, The Flower and The Chocolate Truffle

I was reading through one of Jack’s postings from his Perking the Pansies blog, about being stopped by the Jandarma at one of their very frequent control points and it immediately conjured up a memory from a few years ago. I was driving into neighbouring Dalyan and was caught up in a fair sized queue of cars, trucks and buses that was the result of one of these controls. I don’t know about you, but I’m convinced that I look guilty of something whenever I meet up with uniforms at close quarters. Going through customs I just know they’re going to stop me, and I’m usually right – ‘Hmmm! He’s looking a bit shifty, Bert. Let’s check him out.’

Anyway, back to the Jandarma and their road block; it was a bit unusual in that they were stopping everyone and the line was long and growing by the minute. Must be something big, I thought, as they had men down the line stopping the quick-witted from doing a U-turn and doing a quick skedaddle out of there, and so it proved. As we inched forward I could see that the Jandarma were in their best uniforms; so there must be ‘brass’ about; not only that, they were smiling, shaking hands and passing stuff over to the vehicles rather than the other way around! (Documents! I’m talking about documents!)

My turn arrived and I was pleased to note that the top sergeant was known to me; ‘Where is the Janet?’ he asked. ‘At home’, I replied in my less than perfect pigeon Turkçe. ‘Well, here’s some for her, as well’, said he, handing over 2 pink carnations, 6 sweets and a shake of refreshing lemon cologne. Behind me was a tourist bus and it was great to see the bemused looks on the faces of these folks as the bus was boarded and each was presented with a carnation, a sweet and a shake of cologne by smiling young Jandarma conscripts.

‘What’s all this about?’ I asked my top sarge; ‘Trafik Jandarma Günü’ he said, ‘Kutlu olsun.’ ‘National Traffic Jandarma Day – Congratulations.’

As I drove away with a big smile on my face, I noticed a couple more tourist buses caught up in the lengthening queue and thought what a positive memory these visitors will take home with them. Can’t imagine those po-faced British Traffic Cops dishing out carnations, they’re too busy nicking their own mothers for having a faulty side light! Mind you, our Turkish boys will be back in the groove and running with the pack tomorrow and there won’t be any of this namby-pamby flowers and sweets stuff – it will be business as usual!

Photos: wowing the locals, the tourists and even little old ladies – Ahh! Bless them!

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü

ps the police have nabbed me a couple of times but the Jandarma have always been very civil and very forgiving!

The Trafik Jandarma, The Flower and The Chocolate Truffle

The Theory and Practice of Democracy

Isparta Province and the area around about has long been a favourite for J and me; we seem to get drawn back to the mountains, valleys, lakes and rivers most years. When journeying back home from wherever we’ll choose to stop-over regardless of the fact that we could be back in Okçular in a few hours.

I remember on our first visit to the province being amazed by the almost cult-like aura that surrounded the name of former President Süleyman Demirel – an Isparta boy made good. As you drive through there can be no doubt that he is revered as you pass the Süleyman Demirel Airport, followed by the Süleyman Demirel Forest on the right and the Süleyman Demirel Botanic Park on the left; the drive into town takes you along Süleyman Demirel Bulvarı where you pass the Süleyman Demirel University and then, on the way out of town, there is the Süleyman Demirel Children’s Clinic; we have often stayed at the Süleyman Demirel University’s Mavi Göl Training Hotel. Around Turkey, including Muğla, there are further roads and hospitals named after him; an astonishing tribute to an astonishing career in civil engineering (he was Director General of DSI, the state water authority, at age 30) and politics (he became Turkey’s second democratically elected and youngest ever Prime Minister at age 40) and served two terms as President. Affectionately known as ‘Baba’ (Father), ‘Çoban Sülü’ (The Shepherd Sülü (Süleyman)) or humorously as ‘Spartacus’ after his city Isparta, he is writ large in Turkish political life.

Anyway, we thought we had clocked every possible permutation with his name attached until, quite by chance on a back road as we passed a small, nondescript and rather shabby village called İslamköy, we spied this sign.

My first, rather cynical thought was that democracy had had its day and had been confined to a dusty display cabinet (or the dustbin of history) in this museum; whatever, we had to find out.

This is the home village of the Demirel family and what we discovered was an astonishing complex of buildings, funded by the Demirel Foundation (Vakıf), that included the Democracy Museum (closed), library (closed), a gift shop and cafeteria (closed), a grand mosque dedicated to Demirel’s grandmother and numerous other buildings, the whole surrounded by a wall with a gateway fit for a chateau; everywhere green lawns, flower beds, magnificent trees and water. The total contrast from the scene outside was staggering with decrepit, tumbledown buildings and dusty streets everywhere you looked.

Pride in the achievements of one of your own sons is commendable but I cannot help but wonder how the quality of the lives of local people might have been enhanced had some or all of the money been spent on social and community projects, in other words on people – after all, isn’t that what ‘democracy’ is supposed to be about?

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü

Compare and . .
. . contrast

.

The Theory and Practice of Democracy

Lake Eğirdir – an overlooked gem

Yesterday J and I slipped away from Okçular for a few days, the heat and the torpor were getting to us so it was off to the mountains for a change of scenery and temperature. We’d originally planned to be up north staying around Safranbolu and Amasra but it just wasn’t working out with our ‘son’ and his bureaucratic duties so, we decided to head for the Turkish Lakes and one of our favorite locations of Eğirdir and its surrounds.

This is a familiar route to us but it still managed a surprise; when we got to Isparta there was a real ‘Burası Türkiye!’ moment. The by-pass is a long, straight dual-carriageway with two wide lanes and a wide hard shoulder in either direction; yesterday it was reduced to one narrow passage each way with masses of cars parked down the fast outside lane and double parked on the hard shoulder. There is a huge military complex on one side and it appears that this was a family visiting day so for a couple of kilometres there were families set up under the trees on the beautiful central reservation – there were barbies going and teapots brewing as thousands of people picnicked. An amazing sight; I didn’t have the bottle to stop and hold up all the traffic so my pic is only of the tail end of the show.

Once we were through and on our way it’s just a gentle haul to the top of the pass before the first glimpse of this wonderful Lake Eğirdir comes into view – the blue sky contrasts with the khaki mountains and the brilliant emerald green of the water. Our destination on the causeway linked island is in plain view with only the Monaco Grand Prix Stock Car Circuit in the middle of town to be negotiated!

For those looking to visit Eğirdir there are numerous choices for accommodation depending on the season. We have had some interesting discussions about how long it will take to dry out the room and bedding to assurances that if we are taking the room they will change the bedding! Always ask to see the room; try the taps and flush the loo is my advice! Experience has led us to the Mavi Göl University Training Hotel which is very clean, cheap but gets full at weekends and during holidays, and to the Merci Butik Otel with its greenhouse style restaurant on the roof, standards have slipped a bit of late but it’s still pretty OK.

Dining out of an evening time by the water’s edge as dusk settles and the moon rises is a delightful and unforgettable experience; again, choose carefully and ask to see the offerings or, better still, dine where there are plenty of Turks tucking in! Last evening we were entertained by great swarms of swifts putting on an aerial ballet for us, copulating ducks, a malignant cat and a horse that wandered down to the lake to drink.

 

 

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü

 

Lake Eğirdir – an overlooked gem

The Answer To Life, The Universe & Everything

I will confess to not being a very patient person. I will also confess to being intolerant of stupid, petty rules and those who seek to enforce them. And, I suppose, I had also better confess to the fact that displaying an attitude can lead to a lack of cooperation which leads to more time spent standing in the ‘queue’.

Signs that say things like ‘Queue This Side’ are guaranteed to have me standing the other side; or ‘Wait Behind Yellow Line’ means some or all of my shoes over the threshold. If some ‘Jobswurf’ has something to say I feign deafness or idiocy and advance into the ‘Forbidden Zone’. This can have interesting consequences, especially at US airports; but enough of that!

When J and I first came to live in Turkey I was delighted by the general air of anarchy that went with what passed for queuing here. There were none of those ticket machines with multiple choice buttons that have countless people pass you whilst you try to work out what to do. No, it was a free-for-all with everyone talking at once and pushing to the front. Unless, that is, you were a foreigner – as soon as you were marked out by the mob a calm would descend and all of the innate kindness and hospitality of the Turk would burst over you as you were propelled to the front of the queue. The person being dealt with would step aside with a smile and a cheery ‘Buyrun, buyrun’ (Come on – Please – Help yourself; a simple word with so many nice meanings). I always felt embarrassed and protested, but to no avail – this rampaging mob of a few minutes ago had transformed itself into everything we love about our hosts and they were determined to demonstrate what Turks were all about. There always seemed to be someone in the group who spoke English (or German and despite ones protests of not understanding would continue to go on at length in German), and with a smiling ‘I can help you’ would assume total control of whatever you were trying to achieve.

Not that it was always sweetness and light – our hosts are genetically inquisitive and this could lead to some interesting gymnastics, especially at the bank. Being raised as an English person taught never to speak of religion, politics or MONEY, it was difficult to tolerate the many heads peering over my shoulder or under my arm – how do you deal with the guy who is not the bank teller counting your money for you?

queuing at Ziraat Bank!

 

All that changed with the introduction of ticket machines; apart from a few backwoods men and women who persisted with their old habits until led away to get their own ticket by the bank guard. Very civilised you may think, and you would be right; except nothing seems to get done any faster since technology came to streamline the system. Let me explain . . .

We have to pay our SGK (Turkish Health Insurance) premium every month and it can only be paid at Ziraat Bank (so we’re told). Every time we go there, the banks of chairs are full of people clutching their tickets and watching the red, flashing number displays. The numbers change slowly and those waiting also change slowly as new victims enter the queue. There are still those who seem to walk in and wander to the counter and get dealt with but perhaps I’m hallucinating by this time! On our last visit we were there at opening time which we had thought was a smart thing to do, only to find that there were 46 others already there ahead of us. They, of course did not have tickets, the bank not yet being open, and so had reverted to older patterns of queuing behaviour.

So, there we were, number 47, waiting. It couldn’t take long to get through 46 others with 6 tellers at the counter, could it? Except (that word again), those 6 tellers had to get organised, get some tea down them and generally get their day off to a slow start. Twenty minutes after we sat down the first in line walked away from the only open position and number 2 shuffled up to the counter. By this time I was seriously considering employing someone to sit in for me and phone me just before my number was up! This used to be an honourable profession until technology or privatisation took over; a man could earn a day’s pay by standing in various queues to hand in bits of paper and collect other bits of paper. It took 40 minutes before the 5th position opened by when time itself had ceased to have any meaning – and then it hit me – Yes! That was it! Douglas Adams and ‘The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy’. That very number 47. It was the answer to Life, The Universe and Everything! Suddenly, everything was explained; queuing; ‘ERNIE’ (electronic random number indicating equipment); chance; fate . . . Ziraat Bank!

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü

ps  there is some controversy about the number in serious circles; some say 42, some 45 and some 47 but as the world is going to be destroyed to make way for an Inter-galactic by-pass, who cares!

The Answer To Life, The Universe & Everything

The South East Day 6

Our day began with two things, one salubrious the other highly salubrious; I’ll leave you to work out which is which.

First, comes our breakfast . . . what a spread! Everything and then some, well presented and in such quantity that 2/3rds had to be left. There was an interesting looking red-ish “substance” that we were assured was jam made from berries; jam my arse! it was a violently hot pepper spread that would have brought tears to the eyes of even a hardened Mexican chilli connoisseur. On the other hand there was a huge bowl of clotted cream that has probably taken several years off our lives but was worth every lost second!

Second there is the delicate matter of the “bum-washing” faucet on these here Turkish toilets; most of you know what I’m talking about. They are a splendidly refreshing thing on a hot, sticky day but have always to be approached with a fair degree of caution; a moments inattention can be catastrophic! The nozzle will likely be pointing anywhere other than the expected target and is usually aimed at the gap between pan and seat. Many a chap’s sense of self-worth has been utterly destroyed when he stood up and discovered his trousers had been the recipient of several pints of water. So, you can imagine our surprise and utter delight when we discovered that at this up-market establishment the water has been warmed to a comfortable temperature and we all know that a warm wash is better for the environment, delicate fabrics and delicate nether regions!

Anyway, we’re off to Harran today, about 35-40kms South of here. Negotiating the traffic in the narrow streets of the old town was better than expected it being early-ish on a Saturday morning. There were some heavy black clouds about and a little rain but by the time we got there it was clear enough. The village is a bit of a hodge-podge of old beehive shaped buildings and shoddy concrete with no trees or grass to break up the dusty streets. The land around is fertile and very productive these days thanks to the GAP dam projects.

We drove around to the back of the site and found the remains of the castle and it was here that the chap in a car who had been pursuing us finally caught us up along with a hoard of scruffy little tow-rags who were touting for business/alms for the needy. The young guy was very personable, spoke good English and guaranteed to keep the youthful descendants of Genghis Khan off our backs . . . he got the job! Actually, the kids aren’t the descendants of any rampaging Mongol, they speak Arabic by choice and the kids learn Turkish as their second language at school.

Our new guide gave us a good tour around and included some old beehive houses that he and his brothers had renovated and turned into an enterprise. We now have photos of us dressed up in Arab gear and looking and feeling very silly.

Having done Harran, our guide proposed that he should take us to some little visited sites that are mentioned in our guide books but are a devil to find . . we decided to give it a whirl and it was a very good decision. He took us to a huge underground quarry where

Can you see J? and this IS underground!

stone for much of the ancient buildings of Harran was hewn; its like standing inside a whole bunch of inter-connected cathedrals. There were underground dwellings at another place and what’s left of the temple of Sin (Moon God/ess). You can feel the age of these places as you stand and imagine how it would once have been. Harran has the remains of the oldest university in the world that stood until the Mongols wandered through the area; how the once mighty have fallen!

That said, the locals are a pretty contented lot; there is now plenty of prosperity from farming, tourism adds a bit more and we were assured that there is little to cause discontent. Our guide was indignant at the antics of some of the kids who carry on the begging traditions of their predecessors. Our visit was capped off by an invite to a simple lunch at our guides family home; all in all a very nice day. Oh! And lots of new flowers to photograph that I won’t bore you with.

On the drive back to Urfa we ran into an almighty thunderstorm and downpour; the whole city was awash. Vehicles were stalled at every inconvenient place and with no one giving an inch the place was grid-locked with blaring horns, pedestrians wading knee-deep across the streets and police standing around waiting – presumably for a riot to break out! Wade into that lot and get things moving? No chance!.

Once the rain cleared up we were able to get out and explore the oldest part of town . . . not much to write home about with a few bits of old houses left amidst a heap of ghastly concrete from the 40s and 50s. Several nice looking mosques, though.

We arrived back to another night of live folk music which is pretty much ok; it’s a bit like being back-stage in one of the dressing rooms listening to the gig in the distance. I’m not sure if it’s the zourna getting into my gut or I’ve eaten too much kofte . . . must go on a veggie diet when we get home!

The South East Day 6

Changing the boiler

I’ve been known to get a trifle smug when discussing the thermal qualities of your average villa with other residents who over-winter here for the first time; ‘Oh!’ I say, ‘ you didn’t think to have central heating fitted?’ Janet says that I never seem to notice the flickers of irritation that cross faces because I can’t wait to move on, extolling the virtues of our wonderful gas-fired system. Except I’m not so smug these days; have you noticed the price of those big gas bottles these days? TL250, a hundred quid! And one of those things lasts us less than a week – from smug to mug in about three years! There followed a Winter of Discontent where we tried to economise.

After freezing the balls off the proverbial brass monkey (for those worried about their children reading this I should explain that the ‘balls’ are the three brass balls that formed the traditional sign (the brass monkey) of a pawnbroking emporium) during much of last Winter we decided that enough was enough and the gas would go in favour of . . . what? We had no idea; having been out of any loop for so long (we don’t even have a phone line; the internet only arrived a few months ago in the form of VINN, a lightning fast, 3G technology that up our valley can barely keep up with the postman on his moped!!) that all we could think of was a coal-fired boiler and all that that would entail at our age. We had no idea where to begin . . . but we knew a man who did!

He pointed us towards a, in his words, very professional company in Fethiye, so along we went to this very impressive showroom that contained examples of every conceivable type of heating appliance. Our backwater, countrified brains span at the prospect of having to choose, we sat, open mouthed. We mumbled (and probably dribbled, too) as we tried to articulate our needs. We were shown various coal boilers with hoppers and big levers on the side that required something called ‘riddling’, they also required ‘lined flues’ and acres of waste ground to bury the ashes!

Then came the breakthrough that would likely change our lives – ‘Have you considered ‘Air to Water Heat-Pump Technology’? Considered? Hadn’t a clue what they were talking about. Turns out this thing could heat and cool our home and do it in different zones and do our hot water; it was state-of-the-art technology, capable of converting 1kw of electricity into 4.8kw of hot water – amazing! And no flues, no ashes, no coal scuttles, no riddling and no chimney fires! This was for us!

About ten days later the installation team arrived and set about removing the old and fitting the new; there were three of them. And then the service engineers arrived to complete the job; there were two of them, making five. They switched on and . . . problem; this thing can suck electricity down a cable faster than Aydem can generate the stuff so it fired up and powered down; fired up and powered down; fired up . . you get the picture.

So, now what? You need a regulator which would add 10% to the cost of the installation. We were still enamoured of the idea of no ashes and no chimney fires, so, OK, get on with it. The regulator took three days to arrive from Izmir and after some experimentation and a few more days, failed to make much difference. You need a bigger regulator – Jeez! How much is that? I’m not paying any more money for this, take it all away and give me my deposit back. ‘Lütfen! One more chance, please, no more money.’ OK! One last chance. Bigger regulator arrives and really does the job, ‘now we must testing.’

This is not the best time of the year to soak test a central heating system; there we were, all systems go, windows wide open as radiators blasted out heat day and night for several days. Great, it worked fine, we were happy. Now we needed to utilise the timer/control computer on the unit to control temperature etc, following the detailed instructions was less than easy but could be done; except that it couldn’t! My mind flashed back to the showroom when the patron said he hadn’t had the time to work out how to set the controls –  b^&&#* f@$+! These people don’t actually know what they are doing. They’d sold me this brand new technology without having a clue how to set it up.

Cue forward a couple of days and we had  a specialist engineer from Izmir plus his helper, plus nine other more local engineers all learning on our brand new installation how to set up this very expensive machine from a top-rated company  for this poor, bloody guinea pig of a customer – they spent hours but eventually it was done.

I have to say that when I complained to the supplying company they were most apologetic and admitted that they had failed. They took up my suggestion that they institute a proper programme of training for their engineers and even sent me the details of that programme. They deserve credit for that. Their local engineers worked near miracles to save the company’s reputation and satisfy us, their customer. Here, I want to say that I have the greatest admiration for Turkish craftsmen who battle sometimes iffy infrastructure and poor support to triumph in the end. From job start to final satisfied customer was 21 stress filled days during which the painter managed to fall off his ladder and decorate the yard with writhing and groaning and an abstract design in black enamel paint that we, in our panic, thought was blood! Burası Türkiye!

ps I’d recommend the system, the engineers and the company but not the experience!!

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü

Changing the boiler