. . A Sting In The Tale

Deliverance-copyI’m from the Isle of Sheppey – a ‘Swampy’! Actually, I need to qualify that; a true Swampy has to be born and (in)bred on the island and my father was a ‘Mainlander’ from Newcastle which means that, although some might disagree, I carry few of the physical or psychological characteristics which were once the mark of the real thing. When I was a kid a Swampy was a thing best avoided by normal folk. Sheppey had a disproportionate number of strange looking people and a disproportionate number of children in special schools or institutions – records are there to be checked! It was a bit like living on the set of the film ‘Deliverance’ but without much hope of escape.

Why am I telling you all this? I don’t know, really. Sheppey actually has a very interesting history strategically placed as it is at the confluence of the rivers Thames and Medway. Swampies have had their fair share of outsiders to put up with.


St Sexburga, abbey in hand flanked by her saintly sisters

The abbey church at Minster, built by the all-conquering Normans, is dedicated to St Sexburga, a Celtic warrior princess married to King Anna of Kent who, a couple of centuries earlier, took on the marauding Danes and is said to have skinned any captives alive and nailed their hides to the gates by way of an invitation to ‘bugger off’! The king not being up to much she later wandered away and lived as a nun at Ely in Cambridgeshire – as good a reason as any, I suppose, to be made a saint.

battle of medwaySheppey also has the distinction of being the only part of the UK, (apart from the Channel Islands 1940-45), to have been occupied by an enemy since 1066. In June of 1667, the Dutch Admiral de Ruyter sailed up the Medway and burned the English fleet at Chatham. He towed off the flagship ‘Royal Charles‘, sailed back to Sheppey and occupied the island for a time before heading home to be immortalised by van Eyck, or was it Rubens?

Horatio, Lord Nelson, bane of the French and darling of the masses kept his bit of skirt by the name of Emma, Lady Hamilton at a hide-away in Queenborough on the island. Queenborough gained its Royal Warrant from Edward III in 1366 because his good lady, Queen Phillippa, took a shine to the place for some reason. Two years later it was made a Royal Borough.

‘Kiss me Hardy’ – missing Emma

The island’s strategic position meant that it was bound to be heavily garrisoned – as aviation ‘took off’ Shellness and later Eastchurch became home to the Royal Naval Air Service and the Royal Flying Corps (later the Royal Air Force). Short Brothers built the first Wright bi-planes under license here. Lord Brabazon of Tara, holder of the first British pilots licence (1909), and Winston Churchill learned to fly here. Sheerness, the main town, had long been home to the Royal Navy with its dockyard and safe deep-water anchorage. The town was protected by two massive moats and the army was at Garrison Point which commanded the entrance to the Thames and Medway.

Sheerness moats

the massive moats protecting ‘Fortress Sheerness’


Lord Brabazon getting his ‘wings’


Short Bro’s S27 an early version of Concorde

 History is to be had in bucket-loads; Sir William Penney, ‘father’ of the British atomic bomb was of Queenborough stock and even Rod Hull and Emu came from Halfway (between Sheerness and Minster)!

hull and emu

told you – strange people come from Sheppey

‘Fascinating!’ I hear you say, ‘But what has this to do with ‘living, loving and traveling Turkey‘? The link, would you believe, is Sheerness Dockyard!

By the time I left school Garrison Point had become a shipping control centre; Shellness was, and remains a naturist/nudist colony; Eastchurch Aerodrome was transformed into the UK’s first open prison and the dockyard had been turned over to a civilian industrial area. I was signed on as an apprentice by an electronics company that was housed in the dockyard’s old rope works, a building that was distinguished as the oldest cast-iron framed structure of its type to be built in Britain. The dockyard was a fascinating place to wander around and so it was that I learned that it housed Europe’s most northerly and the UK’s only colony of scorpions!


These are a rather docile species called Euscorpius flavicaudis – Yellowtailed Scorpion, a native of North Africa and Southern Europe. The colony has been known about for several hundred years and was believed to have been imported in cargoes of building material shipped from Italy during the reign of George III. Brown in colour with a yellow tail, they grow up to two inches, live in crevices in brick walls, feed on small insects and can go for months without eating. Their numbers are thought to be well in excess of 10,000 and they are thriving in the warmer weather of the past few years. Once thought to be unique, I know of three other recorded colonies at Portsmouth and Tilbury docks and at Ongar railway station in Essex.

Yellow-tailed scorpion ultra-violet

scorpions glow under ultra-violet light – a beautiful image by Jason Steel

 So, from the UK’s relatively gentle and only scorpion species to Turkey’s most common and a nasty little sod it is too! Meet Mesobuthus gibbosus aka the Mediterranean Checkered or Anatolian Yellow Scorpion. Found all over Turkey, including urban areas, it has a particularly painful sting and can cause a severe reaction in some victims although generally poses no long-term threat to healthy humans. As a general, although not infallible, rule of thumb the more delicate the pincers sported by scorpions the more painful and venomous the sting.

our very own Anatolian Yellow

With that in mind have a look at this next species – Iurus dufoureius asiaticus – endemic to Turkey and so rare that it has no common name. Formidable as it looks with its powerful pincers it is thought to pose no threat to humans.

Iurus dufoureius ssp asiaticus (4)_1

such a rare beauty – enjoy!

This photo was taken in our incredibly biodiverse Kocadere Valley, Okçular in the cool of springtime – this species tunnels deep underground during the hot summer months. It is the largest European (Turkey incl for classification) species, dark brown to black body and paler legs. Little is known about this creature so if you fancy an interesting project . .

 From a lone UK species to Turkey’s most common and rarest scorpions – linked by a dockyard, an aerodrome, an emu, the atom bomb, Nelson, a saint and an undisciplined train of thought. Good value, or what?

Alan Fenn, Cloud Cuckoo Land


'Burası Türkiye!' 'This is Turkey!'

Down In The Jungle . .

‘Down in the jungle living in a tent,

Better than a pre-fab – NO RENT!’

post WW2 prefabSo went the ditty when I was a kid growing up in the late 40s, early 50s. Bombs had wreaked havoc on the property market in the UK and ‘prefabs’ abounded – designed as a temporary solution to the housing crisis, they were still around in a few places when I last visited my childhood haunts a couple of years ago. You may well ask why and the answer is simple – people loved them – and still do!

I only ever experienced them as a visitor, so I have no first-hand anecdotes to pass on. My earliest recollection of home was a converted blockhouse with a flat, concrete roof three feet thick! Windows had been knocked through but the door was still a huge steel affair that clanged like something from a ‘Hammer House of Horror’ movie. Because my parents were near the top of the re-housing list we soon moved into one of the first ‘council houses’ to be built. These days such places are called ‘social housing’ and have a decided stigma attached. Back then they were modern, clean, available for a modest rent, and people were grateful for a decent roof over their heads.

Prefabs - Excaliber Estate, Catford‘Prefabs’ were council owned as well, until Maggie Thatcher sold off social housing in a very successful ploy to convince the working class that they were now ‘home-owners’ and should therefore vote Tory! This is the only reason these little gems survived – those who loved them, now owned them and could not easily be pushed aside for some flash, new shopping mall. Twenty one in original condition on the Excaliber Estate, Catford,South Londonhave been granted Grade 2 Listed Building status. If ‘prefabs’ were people they’d have a huge following on Twitter and Facebook.

Anyway, enough of all that. Time to get to the point.

These days, our local town of Ortaca is a thrusting, bustling and decidedly prosperous looking place; posh, modern apartments and villas abound. So, the story of Mehmet Orhan and his ‘prefab’ needs to be told before ‘the council’ moves in and ‘condemns’ him.

Baraka with air conditionerAs global warming kicks in and average temperatures rise, the prosperous citizens of Ortaca have set about adding their carbon footprint to the whole by purchasing the odd klima (air conditioning) or three. Out in Karaburun Mahallesi Mehmet Bey has ever been one to move with the times. He already has satellite tv and a fine güneş enerji sistem (solar energy hot water), so adding to his creature comforts with a klima was not given a second thought; ‘Every house should have a klima’ he said.

His latest life-style choice has certainly raised his profile in the community with locals and tourists stopping by to photograph the installation. Mehmet Bey obviously loves his home which offers many fiscal advantages over more conventional accommodation. And that brings this story very nicely full circle . .

‘Down in the jungle living in a tent,

Prefabs - Scrapsgate, Sheppey East Coast floods 1953
East Coast floods 1953 prefabs inundated at Scrapsgate, Isle of Sheppey near where I lived

Better than a pre-fab – NO RENT!’


Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü