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!


Here There Be Dragons

My mother kept a dragon – she really did. It lived in a large pot behind the shed in the garden of the very new, post-war council house that we occupied back when I was a very young and impressionable child. She didn’t call it a dragon in those days, she called it a ‘Snake Plant’ and she told me that evil snakes were born from plants just like this one and I believed her. The stem was mottled like a snake and the leaves were shaped like a snake-headed Gorgon with a viper like quality (or so it seemed to me). Although the plant would sprout up each year there was never a flower and mother said that it only flowered every 7 years but when it did there would be snakes all over the place.

Then, one year the plant sprouted and seemed much thicker and stronger that ever before and from the top there grew a great green spike (a biologist will tell you that this is normal plant behaviour – I was not a biologist, I was 6 years old), mother said the flower was coming and so were the snakes! We waited.

When the flower opened it was amazing – and I really do mean amazing! A huge, purple, ‘thing’, of great beauty with a strange black spear sticking out of it. I remember spying on it from the relative safety of the corner of the house – I knew what was inside. Slowly, I summoned the courage to approach and look more closely and as I did so all of my worst fears were confirmed . . . here was a monstrous creature that devoured flesh. I could smell it – the stench of rotting meat was nauseating and flies massed and buzzed around the monstrous creation of evil. My dear mother soon added her pound of suppurating flesh to the mix when she informed me that she had seen the snakes dragging screaming babes down into the plant. Jeez, this thing scared the sh^%e out of me!

Anyway, time passed and we and life moved on and I didn’t give any more thought to ‘Snake Plants’ and those ‘missing’ babes – until I came to live in Okçular village and J and I went for a walk that first Spring. ‘Tanrım!’ as they say in Turkish – it all came back; my mother, the plant, my mother, the snakes, my mother, the missing babes, my mother, death, my mother, the stinking flesh, my mother . . my mother . .

Which brings me to a ‘poem’ by the Poet Laureate Philip Larkin:

They fu%$ you up, your mum and dad,

They don’t mean to, but they do.

They fill you with the faults they had,

And then some extras, just for you!

(this, is apparently, the most popular poem in the US which could be a pointer for all the damage the US government does around the world)

Anyway, all of that aside, let me introduce you to one of the most spectacular plants you will ever encounter in our neck of the woods. It is hugely beautiful, very common around our village (and, if you live in SW Turkey, common around your area, too) and deserving of your admiration from a safe distance. Why so? Because it has a ‘scent’ like one of the Orcs from ‘Lord of the Rings’ that has a peptic ulcer and a severe case of halitosis!! It is appalling – I kid you not! Meet Dracunculus vulgaris the Dragon Arum – admired from afar but never truly loved.

That said, it has naturalised itself in our garden and J and I are delighted. We nurture them (for now there are five) and enjoy their company and, because we are so polite, we never comment on their bad breath.

Okçular is a truly amazing place with beautiful flowers like the Dragon Arum; it is also home to one of the world’s rarest plants Alkanna muglae but more of that in another post. You can learn more about the flora, fauna and history of our village by visiting there are also books available that support the Okçular Book Project, find out more from the website.

Alan Fenn, Okçular Village