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!

'Burası Türkiye!' 'This is Turkey!'

Putting Excitement and Adventure Back Into Flying

I don’t know about you, (you could be a masochist after all!) but I find that flying anywhere is a total bummer – a time-wasting, stress-creating, ball-aching bummer. The sooner it’s banned because the tele-transporter has been invented or we’ve consumed all the oil the better. Before you laugh, both possibilities really do exist; the oil thing you know about, but there is also a guy in Vienna who has been transmitting atomic particles and the opening bars of Beethoven’s 5th between two devices that are opposite sides of the city, but here’s the freaky or exciting bit – whatever he sends arrives before he’s sent it! And I know that’s true because I read it in the Daily Sport!

Anyway, back to this flying thing and all that excitement and adventure; I’ve just heard that Cyprus Turkish Airlines are supposed to be back in business. I say ‘supposed’ because they were ‘supposed’ to be starting up last month (March 2011 (the year might be important as well)) and here we are at the end of April (2011!) and no sign of them yet! Which was always pretty much par for the course with the old Cyprus Turkish and accounted for much of the excitement element of booking with them – you could never be quite sure when they would turn up, or whether they would turn up at all, or, if they did turn up whether you would be left stranded on the aircraft as the crew walked out on strike because they hadn’t been paid for months – which, as it happens, is exactly what happened to J and me a few years ago.

As Max Bygraves used to say ‘I wanna tell you a story’ . . .

Me and J were off on one of those ‘trips of a lifetime’ things, this time on the Trans-Mongolian train from Moscow to Beijing, and we were pretty excited at the prospect. We were due to join our two sisters in London and then fly to Moscow where we’d stay at the iconic Ukraine Hotel before boarding the train. Our timetable went something like this: Depart Dalaman – 08.30.  Arrive Gatwick – 10.30 (local time).  Leisurely journey from Gatwick to hotel near Heathrow to meet up with sisters. Depart Heathrow for Moscow – 07.30 next morning. Simple, unrushed and unpressured – we’d planned well, or thought we had. On the morning of departure from Dalaman we were there on time, booked in and then through the checks to the departure lounge. Watched the plane land and taxi up to the gate; boarded the plane, taxied out towards the runway; and stopped – for about 40 minutes. Then it was dragged back to the terminal and we were told there was a small problem that would take  a short while to fix; we were de-bussed back into the departure lounge where we waited, and we waited, and we waited.

Every request for info was met with some different reassurance and the time ticked by. People were hungry, they were thirsty and they were staring to get very angry. In the end J insisted on having the airport manager summoned (she can do things like that, I’ve known grown men tremble!) and demanded the truth. The truth was that the crew had gone on strike and had left the airport several hours earlier – can you believe this crap? They knew that when they were telling us that we’d be leaving shortly. Bloody hell! Then they told us that the flight wouldn’t be leaving at all that day and we’d be put up at a hotel until the next day – we had a flight to Moscow next day!

We asked about any available seats on outgoing flights but it was early in the season and although flights were returning to the UK empty they wouldn’t carry us because they had no insurance. A very nice young fellow offered to help and found us seats with a Thomas Cook flight but by the time they’d recovered our luggage and sent us to empty the cash machine to pay for the tickets (and would you believe me if I told you that the arse of a ‘Jobswurf’ made us go out through immigration control and then back in again just to get to the cash machine?), the plane had departed. We were bloody frantic and stressed out, I can tell you. Then, sometime after 5.30 in the afternoon the crew of an Onur Air plane that was returning empty to the UK agreed to take us to – John Lennon International in Liverpool! Well, we reasoned, at least it is on the UK mainland. There was just us and one other guy, who, unlike us, was happy to be going to Liverpool!

When we arrived we had to knock up the customs and immigration lot because there wasn’t supposed to be anyone on that flight; our luggage was delivered by a man with a sack-barrow, and then we were through, to a totally deserted airport – everyone had gone home! We did, eventually find a car hire office with the light on and one car left so we signed up and were at last on the road South to London – except, have you ever tried to find the road South from John bloody Lennon International? About 2.30 on the morning of our departure we eventually arrived at the hotel where our sisters were waiting; there had been no way to contact them to let them know what was going on and yet there they were tucked up in bed snoring like babies with not a worry in the world – I can tell you, without a twinge of conscience, that I took intense pleasure in ringing their rooms and spoiling their nights beauty sleep!

There was more drama in the morning when we tried to return the rental car to the 24/7 open office that wasn’t, but that’s another story! Oh! and when we complained to Cyprus Turkish we were offered some serious compensation – TL20, take it or leave it. I told them to stuff it where the sun never shines!

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü