Wanderings

Operation Market Garden 2.0

Well, we are home in Okçular after a couple of weeks up at our mountain retreat. One thing has to be said (after ‘it’s great to be here’), efficient central heating and a glowing open fire in a concrete house at sea level isn’t a patch on a soba in a well insulated wooden cabin at 1200mts! That is a fact!

soba

not ours, but you get the picture!

So, what have we been up to these past two weeks? Getting utterly knackered slaving away on the plantation – up at sunrise and collapsing, exhausted in to our pit by eight thirty in the evening, that’s what! Certainly too knackered to write some silly blog post! I tell you, this village small-holding lifestyle is no walk in the park!

salda sunrise

I know, you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all!

The prime objective this trip has been to clear the land of scrub, brambles and the most evil, thorny stuff you’ve ever met plus, to get a terrace retaining wall built from local stone. Our secondary target was to get the land prepared and planted with fruit and nut trees. Did we succeed? Let’s find out . .

The first wall building crew to put themselves forward were nothing if not everybody else’s brother who was an expert on sweet f-a! They disappeared back down the track a bloody sight faster than they arrived with much ‘Allah allah’ing! (Good God/My God!).

After taking more advice we were introduced to Hussain from a neighbouring village who proved to be not just a hard-grafting, stonewall making  usta (craftsman) but a true gentleman to boot. Next day he and his equally hard-working side-kick got started,

Hussain usta

Hussain usta – a gentle giant

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The first day was spent collecting trailer-loads of large stones

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and the next on getting started

Then, as happens with the best laid plans – the weather took a hand, site work paused for two days and we were left to gaze out of the window as the rain poured down followed by a healthy dusting of snow.

cabin rain1

cabin rain2

familiar views as you’ve never seen them before

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cabin snow2

another day, another sunrise

By this time, and remembering that this was only day five of our little sojourn . ,

frazzled

I was feeling a little bit glum and a lot frazzled – J has warned me that if I dare to put up the photo of her, taken a few minutes earlier, she will kill me or, worse than that, haunt me for all eternity. I am a bit silly sometimes but I am not a total idiot!

So, back to our narrative – whilst all this stuff was going on J and I were attending to a few things of our own like building fences, grubbing out nasty, brutal thorny stuff, layering hedges and building shoe racks and towel rails.

fence making

shoe rack

gulay's Gallery

Gülay Çolak’s beautiful nick-nack box

Week two and the workers are back on the job and progress is a joy for us to behold – what is appearing is exactly what we wanted.

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It’s also been an interesting period for us as we have learned a little about managing our supply of solar electricity when the weather is overcast. In the summer we can clearly see that there will not be a problem with long sunny days and short nights. This started as a project for Summer time but we love it so much here that we want to spend time in the Winter too. There is always the option to up the number of solar panel and batteries if needs must.

As an aside I want to show you some of J’s beautiful needlework together with some felt-work we picked up in Mongolia  that are quite at home up here in the cabin . .

needlework

Mongolian feltwork

In the middle of all this we had a surprise visit from our very dear ‘son’ who had somehow engineered it to bring a great friend of ours and fellow eco-warrior, Süleyman, a man who is perhaps better described as a ‘blood brother’ after some of our exploits together. They came for breakfast and had the good sense and manners to bring everything needed to feed a family of six plus the workers!

friends

old friends and new – the best breakfast surprise (our ‘son’ 2nd r (suitably masked), Süleyman r with two of his colleagues)

tea making turkish style

everybody has an opinion about making tea

9th SS Panzer Div

9th SS Panzer Division – Mark IV Tiger tank

Now, in the midst of all this jollity we had momentarily forgotten that we had come to a financial arrangement with the muhtar (village headman) of our next-door village to hire their digger machine. They used to be a town until the recent reshuffling took place and so they happen to ‘own’ a number of useful toys one of which is the above pictured.

The Panzer man’s job, as carefully described to him, was to level and smooth off the areas above and below our new stone wall. Simple enough, you might think, but you would be taking too narrow a view! In this monster’s driving seat sat an individual trained by the devil and crazy enough to fight the Battle for Stalingrad single-handed! The man was a Berserker! Between our chatting and a few sips of tea and a bit of bread and cheese he had pretty much undermined our wall. People screaming and throwing rocks at his cab did little to stop him until the red mist lifted for a moment and we were able to get him to put most of the soil back where it came from!

digger frenzy

It was the same on the top section, he had to be watched like a hawk or he’d be digging holes, apparently at random, all over the place. Eventually we got what we wanted, sort of, the top was level and the bottom bit was gently sloping albeit with a great mass of bloody great rocks we didn’t know we had until Atilla the Hun dug them out!

digger frenzy2

that’s pretty good, considering!

In the end, we didn’t get on as far as we had hoped. The mad SS Panzer Grenadier had unearthed so much rock that we have to get a tractor with a ‘hook’ plough in to drag it all up and the wall builders will come back and do the heavy lifting to get it out of the way.  The ground is too wet after the rains to use the tractor so we have to wait for a few drying days before the job can be finished. In the grand scheme of things I don’t suppose it will make very much difference but it would have been nice to get those young trees in and settled.

There is also a nice little ‘top terrace’ that will be perfect for lounging, brewing tea, cooking with my wok and tin chicken roaster and taking in the view with a glass or two!

top terrace

Not to mention this character whose owner, we heard, is very ill – the dog seems to have adopted us while we are around and he has proved to be a very well-mannered and gentle creature. He is welcome!

Dog

A number of you have commented that you would like to see a ‘full-frontal’ view of the cabin so here you are . .

cabin shot

Alan Fenn, back from the Eastern Front

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Summoned

Yesterday, from outside I heard the phone ring. J answered, ‘Günaydın Bayram. Nasılsınız?’ (Good morning Bayram (our muhtar). How are you?). I turned back to the job in hand at my temporary workbench of making a chopping board that would fit over the kitchen sink.

wooden chopping board

stow the silly remarks, that includes the assembly jig for clamping and glueing

Conversation over J wandered to the cabin window, took a couple of photos of the only worker around, and said ‘Bayram is asking us to be at the school tomorrow. Something about a white flag and some people who want to meet us. I told him we were away but would try to be there.’ He had, apparently, sounded disappointed that we were unable to commit.

Now, the reason for our prevarication was simple enough – ‘the workers were revolting!’ Well, not exactly ‘revolting’ – not even remotely. Let me explain; the electrician had missed out fitting a socket in what will be our ‘cozy’ corner. When the fridge was delivered there was no electricity and so service were waiting to complete the installation/guarantee process. Finally the carpenters, with just a few hours of work to finish off, had bogged off to a thermal spa for a few days! All of these guys were scheduled for Tuesday.

Tuesday was the closest we could get to a ‘definite maybe’ time with any of them and as we have learned from experience, there are 24 hours in any given day give or take a few more either way! Having seen the electrician who was carping that he was busy and would ‘do his best’ to make it at some point, we put him off until our next visit. We then spent an anxious day fretting as the hours slipped by. Just as it was getting dark the carpenters arrived and set about blasting saw dust all over the place!cabin doors

bedroom and bathroom surrounds nearly finished – just the main door to go

In the middle of it all the service arrived, took a few interior photos to show their friends on Facebook, and sorted the fridge.

So, with everything that could be sorted sorted, we were up at the crack of dawn this morning and ready to hit the road back to Okçular.

crack of dawn

sunrise over the lake

We had no idea what was planned at school. What we found was a playground full of children and their parents and friends. Tables and chairs were laid out by classes with tables already laden with food that each of the families had provided.

Okcular school white flag

J and I were met and escorted to the ‘protokol’ table populated with the mayor and a multitude of managers and other ‘suits’!

view from the top table

view from behind the roses at the top table

Speeches and explanations of the White Flag followed: it seems that our village school has been thoroughly inspected and has qualified to fly a special flag that denotes that it has passed all the health, hygiene and clean environment criteria. It was a great compliment to the regular staff and to Yeliz who takes care of the gardens and general cleaning.

Okcular school presentation

Okçular school staff together with Education Manager, Mayor and Muhtar

It was also an honour for J and me to be included and for the contributions to the school that money from the Okçular Book Project has made over the years to be recognised by the senior education manager.

Ortaca education manager

special flags

flags a-flying

Now we are back home we have a week to prepare before we return back down the rabbit hole together with a lot more tools and my trusty ‘Work Mate’. Having failed to find anything we like very much to furnish our lakeside cabin in the mountains I’ve decided to do most of it myself starting with the divans for the ‘cozy corner’. Tomorrow it’s back to the pile of logs lying outside the gate!

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü

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Feet Under The Table

So, here we are, ‘feet under the cabin table’ as the saying goes! It’s all a bit shambolic with boxes and tools lying around and the odd piles of sawdust that keep reappearing in different corners.

That said, there are spuds baking in the soba and I’m sitting here writing this powered by solar electricity and J is reading Private Eye. We have ice-cold spring water for drinking  and super-heated hot water for showering (when the cabin gets finished tomorrow). The temperature outside is minus 3 or 4 but we are cozy and, most important of all, the bed is made and we will be spending our first night here. Just three months and two days since we acquired the title deeds – how cool is that?

basic cabin bed

we asked for a basic bed frame knocked up out of scrap and that’s what we got!

bed made

ready and waiting

When we first arrived for this visit we were delighted with the obvious progress outside . ,

juniper wood steps

the beautiful, old juniper wood steps – at least 100 years old and good for a hundred more

cabin railings, canopy and view balcony with a view

solar hot water system

solar hot water system and my ‘depot’/tool box

cabin kitchen

inspecting the kitchen cupboards and drawers

carpenter at work

the chippy began fitting the ‘antique’ doors

who is this guy?

we have no idea who this guy is, he just wandered in and began offering advice – on absolutely everything, as one does in Turkey!

assembling the soba/oven – so, where does this bit go?

Turkish soba oven

another job jobbed!

that chirpy chippy again

(just realised that apart from the glitch that prevented comments, a chunk of the post has disappeared into the ether as well)

Turkish usta

watch and learn boy!

easy to make shelves

Boffer getting in on the action

easy to make shelves

not half bad

electric solar panels

Electric solar panels installed and after I threw my teddy in the corner when the ‘electrician’ decided that connecting them together the way the manufacturer said a 24v system should be connected was all bollox rubbish, (the fact that he shrugged when I found the cut up connectors  and started bouncing off the wall did not endear him to me).

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once sorted we had damn nearly 230v AC output!

plumber at work

final connections from the plumber before he ran out of silicon to bed the shower = oh well, tomorrow is another day! (drill powered by the sun)

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It’s a bit shambolic but we’re in, the wine is breathing in the corner, the raki is chilling on the door step, the boza is on the shelf and all is well with this corner of the world!

Alan Fenn and J, happily ensconce down the rabbit hole.

'Burası Türkiye!' 'This is Turkey!'

I Don’t Believe It!

Two weeks back – is it really that long ago? – I put you in the frame about the plot of land J and I have acquired in a delightfully quiet part of the back-of-beyond. Our expectation was that, with luck and a tail wind, we just might be able to get things sorted, cabin-wise, and then look forward to escaping Okçular’s summer heat next year.

hot hot

After the fiasco with the digger word seems to have got around because there I was, up a ladder painting, when the phone rang. It was our main man from the other end of the ‘rabbit hole’. ‘You should come and drink tea with the mayor, he wants to help you.’ ‘When does he want to see us?’ ‘Now! He is waiting for you in his office!’

Seriously! Burası Türkiye! This is Turkey! By the time we’d cleared up, showered, shaved (not J – well, not that day, anyway!), and driven nearly three hours it was mid-afternoon before we got to his office. As it turned out he’d gone to a funeral anyway and didn’t get back for another hour and a half! I have to say that, when he arrived, he was not at all like any other mayor we’ve ever met in Turkey, striking to look at, engaging and dressed very casually. Taking tea and chatting was like having an audience with Jesse Ventura – Different!

Anyway, to cut a long story short, he was kind enough to offer us a corporation digger and driver for the next day for as long as the work took. In case you are wondering, these things have to be paid for at an hourly rate of 100TL, about £20.

Being ‘English’, we were waiting at the edge of the village at the appointed time – an hour and a half later the machine turned up with its charming, smiley driver/operator. Yet again we’d let our foreign sense of time overrule local practices – the triumph of hope over experience! Mind you, when you see what we were getting for our money, it was well worth the wait . .

digger5_copy2

What is amazing is that our plot neighbour came to help and spent the entire day directing and ensuring the job was done properly and exactly as we wanted. We could never have managed without him.

digger3_copy2

The plot has not been tended for about 15 years so a lot of scrub had grown up and needed to be cleared. The scrub will be made good use of for firewood and goat food. The place where the cabin will go was then levelled and an access route made.

You will recall that, this being a protected area, we cannot make any permanent structure. I said we were going to use the chassis of an old mobile office as the foundation for our cabin. We had made no actual moves yet to purchase said chassis so you can imagine our surprise and delight to find this parked up at the end of our access track . .

cabin chassis1

It had taken three guys many hours to cut away the office from the chassis because all the bolts were rusted solid. By the time the truck got it to where you see it, it was 11pm! It succeeded in being what they had hoped for – a ‘Büyük Sürpriz!’ a Big Surprise! We still have to pay for it, but aren’t people wonderful?

So, after the clearing and levelling, the next job for the digger was to tow it on site . .

cabin chassis 2

Is that it? Have we done with the digger? Nope! As we will need a soak-away it was decided that that should be dug whilst the machine is available . .

digger6_copy2

Hole dug, the mayor was contacted to say thank you and fix the price for five hours work. Can you believe he didn’t want us to pay anything by way of welcome! In the end we insisted that he must, at the very least, let us pay for the diesel fuel and we ensured the driver got a bonus.

Next, a phone call had a local usta arrive who specialises in things like soakaways and the like. He looked at the job and then, in line with custom, everyone sat or squatted down to make the bargain/deal. (some pretty wonderful people have and are doing an awful lot to help us make our dream project a reality – it would be great for you to be able to see their smiling faces – not possible for many reasons).

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Deal struck, the usta jumped in the hole and set to work and within a day the job will be capped and finished – like to see you get a builder to come and do a small job at the drop of a hat!

usta

In the middle of all this the man who is reputed to be the very best blacksmith/steel constructor in the whole of this area arrived following a summoning from a ‘certain someone’  to discuss the framing of our wooden cabin. Turns out he is the bee’s-knees and will oversee the whole project, including fitting-out. We have now agreed stage 1 price and he has given a guaranteed start and finish date.

It would be great to be able to show you the full team but discretion is required. Here are a few views from this trip by way of compensation.

plot view

from the plot

lake view1

a  stone’s throw away

view from terrace

the view from the cabin with the main-man

So, there you have it. What was going to be a one-nighter turned into three and each day was filled with wonderful surprises. Some pretty special, selfless people, neighbours and bureaucrats joined with us and brought so many threads together. I’m not sure who is more excited about this project, us or them! Oh, before I forget. A guy from the water cooperative turned up and invited us to join three or four others who also want water for irrigation to lay a new pipe that will pare the cost right down. Yet another piece dropped into place.

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü (but actually on Cloud Nine)

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I Wouldn’t Leave My Little Wooden Hut For You-oo

Some of you will recall that J and I have been searching for a quiet, mountain bolt-hole for some while. About a year ago we discovered a secluded, little gem of an area – you can see some photos here and here. As is often the case with these things, there are pot-holes and swampy bits along the pathway to paradise. In this instance, we are talking about an area under special protection and the fact that the people who ‘own’ the land don’t! Although families had farmed the area for generations there were no formal title deeds. Ho-hum!

Two weeks ago we got a phone call from our under-cover secret agents suggesting that we get ourselves up to paradise toot sweet! A plot was up for sale in a perfect location, at a fair price and the owner had spent a lot of time and money to acquire title deeds! ‘Ferrets up a drain-pipe’ does not adequately describe our reaction time!

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Next morning we were on site with our ‘agents’, the owner and really nice guy we’d met previously who happened to own and farm a plot next door to the one we were looking at.

The location was indeed perfect! 1200+ square metres, terraced, with a beautiful, mature pine tree, forest behind and to one side and a great view once the scrub has been cleared. Water for irrigation is free and drinking water is available. We made an offer there and then and by 3pm the next day the title deeds were in our hands. I’m already dreaming of creamy almond blossom scenting the garden in Spring and balmy evenings on the terrace listening to Segovia as he does his thing!

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our view towards the lake

Now, this being a protected area, it is not possible to build a permanent structure – a bit of a puzzle you might think. Not really! The provincial roads department has a graveyard of those mobile office things that used to be all the rage.

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The chassis is a massive C-section and there are four close-coupled wheels. With the office structure removed one of these would suit our needs perfectly, so we are acquiring one. With the platform area extended, it will hold a 7×4 metre wooden cabin (sans terrace) and if it’s got wheels it can’t be a fixed structure, can it? A modern solar electric system will power LED lighting and a fridge and ‘Bob’s your uncle!’

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Access to the plot is via a narrow track that you’d miss if you didn’t know it was there. Here is the digger arriving to do a job of levelling and scrub clearing.

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This being the back of beyond, the machine arrived more than an hour late (normal) and, as soon became apparent, with an operator that hadn’t got a clue which lever did what! The real operator had gone to a funeral and didn’t want us to be disappointed! Never mind, another day will do, we don’t need much of a reason to be back here again asap.

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he managed to extend the arm before admitting he hadn’t got a clue

– our neighbour was not impressed!

The locals are just as nice as our neighbours here in Okçular – salt-of-the-earth! Out of the blue J and I were told to make our way to our plot-neighbour’s house on the edge of the village.

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our plot is way over the other side

The house has fabulous views across the lake and set out on the upstairs terrace was a feast to welcome us to the community. I know we are going to be very happy living part of our time here.

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Neighbours!

Finally, an interlude whilst we await developments . .


Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü and ‘I’m-Not-Telling-You-Where-It-Is’ Köyü