Friday 29 December 2006

Merry Christmas everyone!

OK, so I slipped a few days but, hey, it's Christmas and I'm allowed to.

The latest news is that I have returned to the UK to spend Christmas with my family. Having spent a couple of days in Istanbul, I caught the easyJet flight back into Luton to the welcome of a pea souper. The pilot had to radio in to check that we were OK to land and thankfully we were.

Being back is a little strange. I haven't been back since August and I'm not sure whether I've missed the UK or not. I've missed my family obviously but I'm not sure whether I've missed England and Englishness.

It seems, as I walk around my home town of Kingston, that consumerism is a little too much for me to handle now. The fighting for Christmas presents and stories of people queuing outside Selfridges from 5am to get the bargains in the sales is a little twisted. That's not to say that I'm not going to stuff my suitcase with sales bargains before I fly back to the safety of my balcony.

Well I must go and cram some more of the food I've missed over the past 4 months down my neck...

Sunday 17 December 2006


Well it seems to be working. Here I am obeying my diary and writing the next entry.

I had some good news this week. I finally found a good lead in my quest to learn Turkish.

It all started when some buttons fell off my coat and I needed to go find a seamstress. As with everything in Turkey, you don't just walk in to any old place. You need to ask the family and get recommendations. So having identified the family approved seamstress, I set off with anything and everything that was missing a button or coming loose.

I walked down the dark alley between the bakers and the Levi shop and found a small room with sewing machines. There was no one to be seen. "Hello? Hello?" I called but nothing. So I tried calling in Turkish. "Alo? Alo?". Still nothing.

As I turned to leave, a little boy came running up to me. The kid couldn't have been more than 3 or 4. "Can I help you?" he said confidently?

"Hello little man, is there no one around today?" I patronised.

"Yes, I'm looking after the place. What do you need doing?" he replied.

"Erm," I stumbled as the confusion grabbed my by the tongue "I've got some missing buttons and a little sewing needing doing".

"OK fine, do you still have the buttons?"

This was beginning to freak me out a little. Maybe he was a midget? But he was playing out the front with his friends when I came in, so he can't be. Weird. "Yes, I've got the buttons"

"Come back in 10 minutes and my mum will be here". He said finally to my relief. An English kid of his age would be licking windows and sitting in his own mess, but this kid was lining up business like a 40 year old.

Anyway, to cut this long story down a bit, the mother did turn up later on and I got everything sewn up (hurrah!) for about 30p. While sitting and sewing, she was telling me about her older son and how good his English was etc. I started to complain about the lack of Turkish language schools in Kusadasi when she replied "but there is. Just go to the Halk Eyetim". Now I still don't really know what the Halk Eyetim is but I went there.

Sure enough, all I need to do is get permission from the Vali (mayor-type figure) for the state of Aydin and I'll be on my way. It seems that I'm going to be learning Turkish along side other Turks. This is where my confusion lies at the moment. Why would I be learning along side other Turks? Why can't Turks speak Turkish? "Because it's the Halk Eyetim" is the reply I always get. From what I can gather the Halk Eyetim is the place where the poor and uneducated go to learn to read and write. I told them that I want to learn to speak as well and was told that I would.

I asked the Manager of the Halk Eyetim how much the course was. I true 'Two Ronnies' he replied "45 days". He's got his work cut out with me.

So there you have it. In the new year I will be starting my Turkish lessons. I'm looking forward to it. It'll be quite a life changing experience to talk to my grandmother fluently.

Until next week...

Sunday 10 December 2006

Autumn or Winter?

Inevitably, writing this blog was overlooked as I got busy living. Adding a new post isn't an indication that I've stopped living, just that I'm trying to get some order to my existence and I've found a slot to keep this bad boy fresh. So the new plan is this:

6am-7am : Reading (currently Richard Branson's autobiography 'Losing my Virginity')
7am-8am : Personal Development (currently working on my handwriting which includes re-learning how to hold a pen. Not the easiest task at 31)
8am-9am : Exercise (I run every other day down to the Marti Hotel in Kadinlar Denizi and back. This is about 30 minutes. When I get back I start the weights and sit-ups etc)
9am-10am : Shit, shower, shave and breakfast.
10am-? : Working

But on Sunday's I've booked a slot for writing this blog. Let's see how long it lasts.

I figured that if I carry on waking at midday and generally milling about, I'm not going to get far in life. It could also be a combination of reading 'Getting things done' by David Allen (a fantastic book giving to me by my great friend Sam) and the wise words of Mr Branson. I find the Branson book inspiring but at the back of my mind I'm aware that he was a public school boy, born with a bank account at Coutts & Co. Oh well, between him and Alan Sugar, I'm sure there's room for me.

So apologies for the absence. What has changed since I last posted? The most noticeable thing was the abandonment of Kusadasi on the 1st November. I walked down into town that morning and it was like something out of the film '28 Days Later'. The shops were closed, the cars gone. There were no salesman muttering random English quips at me. Kusadasi had been deserted. Only the occasional ship comes to port now. So rarely that I forget the last time. Only then will you see a few shops opening and the vultures of taxi drivers and perfume sellers hovering around the port entrance. Apart from that, Kusadasi is resting for moment until the preparation for 2007 begins.

I saw the season start and end this year. By all accounts it was one of the worst seasons on record. A friend tells me that last year their hotel had nearly 7,000 room nights (how they measure success in the hotel business apparently), this year it was nearer 1,000. The prediction for next year is a lot worse. There are going to be lots of casualties in the Tourist industry.

I feel sad when I hear such things. Turkey has so much to offer but it's not communicated to potential holiday makers and those that actually come don't get a chance to see the right things. The complaint here is that as the prices of flights and holidays has gone down, so has the quality of tourist. It's very un-British to talk like this but the Turks are a little more honest. Years ago, Turkey was an unusual destination, something exotic. Now it's a cheap and cheerful alternative to Spain. Consider the work of a Turkish Carpet salesman trying and sell carpets worth thousands of pounds (and deservedly priced) to a working class family from England who are more used to car boot sales and Poundland. I don't want to sound like a snob, I'm just trying to highlight the change in Tourism and how it effects the local economy.

Even more hard work are the tourists coming from the Balkan region who are in real financial hardship. I hear stories of filling their pockets with salami from the breakfast buffet and cooking it on stoves in hotel rooms to avoid paying for lunch and dinner.

The hotel industry in Kusadasi is in a bad way. With 90% of the town taken up with hotels, the supply far outweighs the demand. The problem with the Turkish style of business is that if someone sees someone doing something successfully, the entire town will jump on the band wagon. So when hotels started to do well here, the world and his wife opened their own hotels. Unfortunately Kusadasi doesn't have the same building restrictions of prettier towns like Bodrum so every hotel adds to the concrete jungle. Before you know it, you have created a monster that is simply not appealing to tourists anymore.

OK enough already. I'm going to get off my high horse and tell you about something else I learned over the past months... Turkish coffee. Making a good Turkish coffee is a skill few people have. I am still training but I'm about 2nd dan now. The holy grail of Turkish coffee is the 'kopruk' or bubbles. Everyone wants bubbles on their coffee. The bubbles are so appealing with their technicolour sheen. So, anyway, how do you make a good Turkish coffee?

1. Start with your Turkish coffee pot (what, you haven't got one? Have a cup of tea then).

2. Add one level teaspoon of Turkish coffee for each cup. You can get Turkish coffee from most supermarkets in the UK, but if you want the best, go to the 'Little Hunter' in Izmir ;)

3. Use the coffee cups to measure the water needed. One cup per cup obviously.

4. Turkish coffee is drunk 'sade' (plain), 'orta' (medium sweet) or 'sekerli' (sweet). Plain has no sugar. For medium, add one cube of sugar and sweet add two per cup.

5. Put the coffee on a medium/low heat and don't stir. This is the secret to a bubble fest. Don't stir a thing. Just wait.

6. Be careful. I took my eyes off the pot for a moment while I sneezed and this was the result. Watch the bastard thing.

7. There you have it. A perfect Turkish coffee. Granted the bubbles should be in the cup and not on the worktop but that comes with my 3rd dan.

According to my schedule, I should be having my haircut. So, until next time...

Thursday 28 September 2006


I heard a bit of a kerfuffle outside my flat last night. So like any self-respecting neighbour, I switched off the lights and started twitching the curtains.

Rumour is, the guy next door had decided to remove the bloke downstairs' solar panel from the roof. Why just remove someone's solar panel? What, they wont notice? A similar thing happened when my father arrived for his annual holiday out here to find that his television had stopped working. Turns out the bloke downstairs got onto the roof and unplugged my father's cables from the satellite and stuck his own in. Bargain!

Well anyway, I heard people screaming and shouting outside the window and the next thing I know, the police arrived and carted the blokes off as a knife had been pulled. Bonkers. These are 60+ old men street fighting. Mind you, the wives carried on after the husbands had been nicked.

But this is Turkey, and Turkey is a little rougher round the edges than the life I was used to back in Blighty. This had been proved one day when my cousin arrived at my doorstep looking a little angry about something. To cut a long story short, in a bout of road rage, someone had called him a cunt in front of his wife and child. This is bad form. Calling someone a cunt is generally bad form but in front of the family is plain unacceptable. My cousin had asked around and found out where the bloke worked and pursued it. "Billy," he said "be careful here. You can't just call someone a cunt and not expect them to follow it up".

So here he was sitting on my balcony, waiting for a call from the guy. He explained the procedure to me. "I go to see him. I then call him a cunt to his face. If he accepts that, we're even. If not, we fight." Now remember that this is an armed nation. Guns are around. It's not unusual. More than guns though, I've learned about something that has captured my curiosity. All Turks have the ability, though most don't know how. Someone unique to Turks that was once feared across the whole world. It's a martial art form that seems to be dead but can occasionally been seen to be used by masters. My step brother told me a story:

"A close friend was sitting in a doner kebab restaurant when 3 young men came in and started taunting the chef. Things were getting out of hand and it looked like the old man was in trouble ...when suddenly ...Bang! Bang! Bang! The three men hit the dust and scrambled away."

What happened to the young men? They messed with a master of the 'Osmanli Tokati' (The Ottoman Slap). When used correctly, the Ottoman Slap can knock a grown man straight down with one simple move. There are rumours as to how it's done, and my mission is to learn more. Some say it's the way the blow is delivered to the ear that sends the victim spiralling down as their sense flies out their other ear.

If you want to see an Osmanli Tokati in action, I have been told the best way is to head to the centre of town and to find the nearest man and insult his mother. You will see the start of the slap, you might not catch the end. Insulting a person's mother is apparently the worst possible thing in Turkey (even worse than questioning someones sexuality, and that's saying something). I'm sure I'll talk about swearing another time, as it deserves a whole post in itself.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go and wax on, wax off.

Monday 25 September 2006


Yesterday was the first day of Ramadan (or Ramazan as it's known here). I thought I'd get involved in my quest to become a fully qualified Turk.

The period of Ramazan starts with 30 days of fasting. Now my knowledge of this whole festival is almost nothing so I wont even attempt to speak about the ins and outs of it. All I know is that at 4am yesterday morning I was called for breakfast (seems strange to use that word as it should really be startfast). I woke and put on my glasses. I guess I must have fallen asleep again because next time I looked at my watch it was 5am and dangerously near to the start of the fasting which kicks off with a canon and the extinguishing of the mosque minaret lights at 5:30am.

I hot footed it down to my father's flat and passed a number of people along the way, in the dark, all rushing around to get ready for the hellish day ahead. The local policeman was taking out his rubbish from his little hut and said something to me and laughed as he saw me tripping over my slippers in an attempt to get eating as quickly as possible. I have no idea what he said but I replied "yes, that's absolutely right". Happy not to feel a bullet in my back, I continued up the stairs of my dad's block.

When I arrived, they had just finished putting the breakfast things away, but were so pleased that I was attempting to fast for the first time, they happily re-laid the table. And so, the feeding frenzy began. I was shovelling food into my mouth like a thing possessed. As the time ticked away, I had to find a efficient eating strategy. I discovered that black olives are quicker to de-stone in the mouth than green for example.

Before long the lights of the mosques went out and then ...silence. What happened to the cannon? I was all excited about that. Apparently non-fasters had complained about a cannon being fired in the early hours of the morning and the council decided to only fire the cannon the evening at the end of the day's fast.

So all was still and I headed back to bed.

I woke starving hungry at about 11am. I think that knowing you're not allowed to eat makes you hungry. Normally I wouldn't be hungry after such a large breakfast. But I pottered around the flat and tried to think of things to do to take my mind off the subject of food. By the way, there are other rules to fasting:

  1. You are not allowed to eat
  2. You are not allowed to drink
  3. You are not allowed to kiss
  4. You are not allowed to have sex
  5. You are not allowed to have bad thoughts about anyone
  6. You are not allowed to swear

There are probably other things but this was enough for me.

My dad called at about 2pm and suggested we go into to town to take our mind off things and get some errands done. I had to take a fake watch back to a shop as it had broken (stop laughing) and I so I decided to go along.

On trying to return the watch, the salesman told me that I had shaken the watch too rigorously and that's why it had broken. Now, note to all out there; don't say something stupid like this to a man who is fasting. It was like I had been taken over by another animal. I launched an attack at the man that even surprised my father. The result was, however, a repaired watch and two broken vows.

The time then moved along pretty quickly and soon we were gathered at the dinner table waiting for the cannon to fire signifying the end of the fasting period. With a loud boom (which has actually just happened here again today and scared the bejesus out of me) we began eating. Traditionally, you break your fast with a date (not the romantic kind as that wouldn't be a good idea). So I tucked into the best tasting date I had ever eaten. We then ate in silence as the sound of cutlery clattering was too loud anyway.

Apparently I have to do another fast in a couple of weeks time and another at the end of the 30 days. I'm allowed to do this as they go easy on first-timers. I'm not sure if I will do it again. I'm pleased I did it but I found that it made me even less productive than usual as the sugar levels drop.

Now please excuse me as I have to go to dinner.

Thursday 21 September 2006

Wet wipes

I called the plumber over the other day to fix a few things. While he was here I asked him to try and figure out why the toilet seat wouldn't stay up. Any male readers out there will know just how annoying this is. Trying to urinate with one hand whilst holding the seat up with the other less being circumcised by it can get tiresome.

He soon got to the root of the problem; a small copper tube sticking out the back of the toilet pointing into the bowl. Now I'd seen these in pretty much every toilet in Turkey and had no real idea what it was for. I asked the plumber to remove this pipe and so solve the problem. "Don't you use this???" he asked in a shocked tone. "Nope, never. We don't have these in England" I replied. "Offffff, how disgusting" he remarked as he twisted the pipe off.

Further enquiries provided me with my latest lesson in being a qualified Turk. Basically, post-defecation, one opens the tap and allows water to flow across the nipsy and is then used to wash ones backside before finally using toilet paper to simply dry.

I was intrigued and vowed to give it a try. Wow, what a difference a pipe makes. It's so easy and you feel so fresh. I can understand that it might not be such a nice experience in cold, wet England but over here a blast of cold water on the balloon knot sets you up for the day.

I now need to call the plumber back to reinstall the thing so I can enjoy the experience from either toilet.

My life is changed forever. Although I'm a little worried that I'll never be able to revert to the dry wipe.

Friday 8 September 2006

Another Turkish brand that wouldn't do so well in the UK

You have to question the cleanliness of the clothes sold in this Izmir store.

Run Fezboy, Run!

Last month I signed up to RunLondon (the Nike 10K in London). I've run it for the past 3 years and I find it a good excuse to get out and get some exercise.

This year has brought a lot of upheaval in my life and so getting back into the routine of running has been the last thing on my mind. Well, this morning I woke up and realised that it's exactly one week until the event so I could postpone it no longer.

I was up at 8am and put on my running shoes. In Turkey, you have to run in the morning as the day's heat lasts well into the evening. This morning was still and fresh and so I headed down the steps to the sea front and slowly began to pick up speed.

OK, so I only ran for about 20 mins and walked the rest but it was a good start that gave me an instant change of mood and outlook. The is no other exercise quite like running for giving you a chance to think and clear your head.

The other advantage of running first thing in the morning is to see Kusadasi as the town gets ready for the day. The road sweepers are out, the leather shops are wheeling out the horrendous offerings and the taxi drivers are having their morning, cigarette induced, hockle. life is sweet.

Tonight we are having the first full family Reunion and for this a medium sized animal will pay the ultimate price and be lowered into a pit over a bowl of cracked wheat. Looks like I'm going to need another run tomorrow.

Until then...


Thursday 7 September 2006

Where've you been len?

I know, I know, you've been wondering where I've been. Well let me tell you a boring little Arlo Guthrie-esque story about Turkish bureaucracy. It all started a few weeks ago when my mobile phone refused to get reception...

I went to the Turkcell (one of the major Turkish mobile providers) shop to see whether they knew what might be going on with my reception. "Your phones been blocked, you'll have to buy a new one. Take a look at the Nokia 1100..." I thought this was strange and so I decided to explore a little further. Sure enough, my nan's Turkmenistani carer told me that after 3 months of being in the country, her phone had also been blocked too.

As I explored further it became clear that the problem was due to the Turkish Telecommunication Department, wanting to control the import of handsets, is blocking foreign mobiles using Turkish SIM cards. There is an official route to getting the phones unlocked and I decided to pursue this.

In the meantime, I went back the UK for a short break and brought back the receipts for both phones as this was important (apparently). On arriving in Izmir airport I asked if we could go to the customs office to register the phones. It was closed. So we headed back to Kusadasi.

The next day I went to the customs office here in Kusadasi. Arriving at the customs office I was met with a man waving me out again telling me that this was old news and that they weren't doing this anymore. I was then told by someone else that I needed to go to the Telecommunications head office in Izmir. So off I trotted.

I got the ferry across the bay of Izmir and made a beeline for the Telecom HQ. "I'm sorry, they have all gone for lunch". I decided to use the time to go to the post office to pay a bill that had come from Superonline (my ISP here in Turkey). The bill had arrived at my uncles hotel instead of my home, which was odd, but seeing as I'd never received mail to my home I didn't think much about it. The bill was overdue as the mail had arrived about a month late but I decided to get it paid ASAP.

Anyway, back to the Telecom HQ. I spoke to the security guard, a young woman, who was helping me go through the form and make sure I had everything I needed. My Turkish is pretty bad and there were a lot of "I'm sorry, I don't understand"'s on my part. In the end the security guard must have gotten sick of me and stepped in to tell me to sod off until the others come back from lunch. I went for lunch myself.

I sat in the cafe, eating my stuffed pepper, reading the form from the Telecom HQ. Picking out the word 'Fotokopi' a few times I decided to go and photocopy everything I was carrying. After lunch I headed back to the HQ. The kind female security guard went through all my paperwork and said that everything was in order to proceed upstairs. "Wait...." she said, looking again at the phone receipts. "You need to get these stamped by customs". My heart sank.

Somewhat disheartened and frankly fucked off by the whole deal, I headed to the airport to pick up my father who was flying that day. Whilst there I went back to the customs office ...and they were open. I saw the man in charge of stamping phone receipts. He looked at the receipt, raised his stamp and with it hovering above the paper he turned to me and asked "wait, did you arrive today?".

"No, two days ago" I replied.

"Sorry, you have to stamp this the day you arrive". Suppressing every urge in my being to vault the counter and stamp the fucker to death, I did the British thing and walked away fuming. In fact I was so angry I had to stop and offload my story to the security guard on the way out. He looked bemused.

Back to the airport to pick up my arriving father. "Hey dad, great to see you, how are you? Good trip? By the way, can you go back into the arrivals lounge and get this piece of paper stamped? Thanks dad." With that, my poor exhausted, slightly drunk (he hates flying) father had to prise the doors of the arrivals hall open while the police weren't looking and get back in to the arriving passenger's customs office. After 5 minutes he returned with a fully stamped receipt.

We didn't celebrate too long as I explained what was still left to do; going back to Izmir to the Telecom HQ, then to Turkcell to register the phone, then at least a 3 month wait while the form goes to Ankara etc etc. The Nokia 1100 was looking more and more attractive by the day.

We stayed in Izmir that night and I explain the story of the phone and the customs and the multiple suicide attempts along the way and my dad seemed unsurprised. "This is Turkey Billy. no one knows what you really have to do, they just want you out of their hair as soon as possible".

The next day we decided to go to Izmir centre to do some shopping. Passing a small phone shop (not really a shop as a hole in the wall with a young girl up to her elbows in Nokias). Dad turned to me "give me your phone" and disappeared into the shop. "We'll come back in an hour".

An hour later we returned, handed the girl 20YTL (about £8) and I was presented with my phone, unblocked and fully operational. "This is the Turkish way" my father told me. I guess I still have a lot to learn.

So what has this got to do with my absence from this blog? Well let me tell you about my run in with Superonline...

The day I arrived back in Kusadasi I discovered that my internet connection had been cut. I phoned Superonline to try to get to the bottom of the problem. Apparently I hadn't been paying my bills and they eventually cut my connection. "But I've not received any bills except the one which I paid immediately" I explained. It turns out that they had sent me a number of bills but none had arrived to my house. I started the long process of re-subscription with the ISP to get back online.

In the meantime I tried to get to the bottom of my mail problems. A couple of months before I had got a call from my nan to say that the postman was downstairs with a parcel for me. I hurried down to my nan to find her sitting drinking tea with said postman. "Good to meet you Billy, my name is Ali. I don't know where your house is so I'll just bring you mail to your nan". Not having the appropriate Turkish to argue, I agreed.

As the weeks and months have passed my mail was not arriving to my nan either and occasionally turning up to my uncle's hotel. I asked my dad to help me find out what was happening so we headed to the post office We met with the head of the post office and welcomed her on her first day on the job. Bugger.

We were told to come back at 4pm when Ali would be here and we could explain to him where we lived. In the meantime, my uncle called through to the post office and threw his weight around but nothing changed. To try and cut this long long story short, these were the problems:
  1. My street name I had been given, Susam Sokak - meaning Sesame Street, doesn't actually exist. So any mail coming through to my address was being thrown around until someone decided to send it to an address where the recipient has the same surname. Thank god my surname is fairly well known in Kusadasi.
  2. The postman can't be bothered to walk up the stairs to my house despite knowing where I live. "He's right, you know. Would you want to walk up those stairs?" My dad asked me. "I would if it was my fucking job" I felt obliged to respond.
  3. The postman wont come to my house because "there's a dog there". There isn't.
So my home officially has no address as my street has no name. I have been forced to now give my nan's address in the future and to change everything at the bank etc etc. One slight problem... no one knows my nan's address either. Specifically, no one knows the number of the house as it changes every time they build a in the street (which happens often in this fast growing town). It was 60, then it was 62. The water company thinks it's 63. My dad thinks it's 65 and so on.

So there you go. My internet returned today after approximately 50 phone calls. I still have no address. I've just sent the plumber down the road to get me a post box to fix to my nan's house. Don't ask why I've sent the plumber unless you want another story.

Now, this story has been cut down so I wont crash the internet but believe me when I say that this process has been un-fucking-believable. Really really amazing. So desperately ridiculous that I even questioned my staying in the country. I guess I have to relax a little and play by the rules. I'm learning still.

I maintain that the person who takes control of Turkish bureaucracy and official rubbishness will be seen as the next Ataturk.

As they say here, "offf bey, offf!"


Tuesday 29 August 2006

Scuba do

Whilst down in Bodrum, I had the chance to try scuba diving. I've noticed that diving seems to attract the same kind of passionate enthusiasm as golf, stamp collecting, cars or smack. As an outsider, it's hard to really appreciate what all the fuss is about.

So, anyway, a friend of a friend of a friend knew the owner of a diving boat and so off we went to join the throngs of English tourists crammed onto this small vessel.

We were each assigned a diving number and told we would each have an instructor to help us pop our scuba cherry. My main fear wasn't the claustrophobia or the normal dangers of being submerged under 6 metres of Aegean Ocean, but rather without my glasses I'm almost completely blind. Apparently you can get prescription goggles but it seemed a little OTT to splash out (excuse the pun) on something I might hate. My contact lenses are about 4 months out of date and so I had to rely on the promise that everything underwater is magnified by 25 (insert your own 'looking down the front of the trunks' gag here).

Soon we had arrived at our diving spot and were ushered down for a beginners briefing and readied ourselves for taking the plunge. We were past conveyor belt style from one man to another slowly adding to our kit piece by piece. You can see me getting lashed to my air tank in the picture below.

And so it was time to shuffle up to the edge of the boat to take the 'big step' into the sea. "Now why do we take a 'big step'?" They asked in an innocently patronising fashion. "So you don't hit your arse/tank on the edge of the boat and roll unconscious into the drink" I managed to restrain myself from answering.

My last words before I pushed off were "don't forget to tell the bloke I can't see". Once safely in the arms of instructor Ali, my first words were "did they tell you, I can't see?". Without reply he dragged me by the snorkel to the shallows and confirmed that I knew the appropriate sign language before shoving my regulator into my gaping mouth and pushing my head down into the water. Before I knew what was happening, we were at least a metre down and my ears were starting to ask questions. A brief twist of the nose and all was good as we continued our descent.

I could see surprisingly well underwater. My instructor pointed out a hermit crab as it scuttled along rocks. Ali, understanding that a short sighted diver might need assistance, pushed my head closer and closer toward the crab. Not knowing the hand signals for "it's OK I can actually see just fine down here", I simply had to relax as my nose eventually sandwiched poor crustacean to the rock.

Soon we were off again as Ali eased my descent down to 6 metres. There we met another Ali who's job was to sit at the bottom of the Ocean with a camera and a bag of bread. The fish were swarming as they gave me the hand signal to hold on tightly to a rock. This I did. The current seems tsunamic for a beginner and I was clinging on to anything I could find as my instructor released me for the first time to give the photographer some space.

Now I should really explain the photos below. I may look scared witless but there are two factors beyond my control you need to know about. 1. I was told not to smile as smiling would release my mask and allow water to pour in. 2. The mask was so tight, I had a permanent look of surprise/terror as my eyebrows were pushed up into my hairline. I was actually fairly relaxed. Not completely relaxed and there is a give away if you examine the pictures closely. ...Look at my right hand.

After the photo op, we continued the short dive but too soon it was time to head back to the surface. I can really now see the attraction in diving. The feeling of freedom (albeit with an instructor holding onto the scruff of my neck for the duration) was quite amazing. The fact that once submerged, the fish are perfectly comfortable with you swimming around them. I can see myself doing this again in the near future. Highly recommended.

Yours with a mild case of the bends.


Monday 28 August 2006

WTF? Clouds?

I woke up this morning to a rather distressing reality ...clouds. For the first time since my arrival, this is the first thing (besides smoke) to cover the sun. Could it be summer is coming to an end? Just a glitch I reckon.

Sunday 27 August 2006

Overtaken by terror

I've just got back from a few days in Bodrum. Bodrum lies on the South West corner of Turkey where the Aegean meets the Mediterranean (see map below). I decided to take the car which gave me a crash (excuse the pun) course in driving Turkish style. Driving in Turkey requires a relaxed attitude and a whole lot of courage. Take your Highway code and burn it, things here are different.

The first rule of driving here is to ignore your rear-view mirror (unless you're reversing at speed). All that matters is what lies ahead, looking behind will only scare you. A glance to the rear and, 9 times out of 10, you'll see the whites of the eyes of the driver behind as he dances side to side attempting to overtake.

Overtaking in Turkey is equivalent to sliding 3 bullets in a six-shooter and sucking on the barrel. The roads here rarely open up enough to give you a clear run and so you simply have to take chances or you'll be stuck behind a watermelon-laden tractor for the length of your journey. Here follows the generally approved method of overtaking:

1. On approaching your victim, do not slow down until absolutely necessary. Speed right up to the bumper. This has the benefit of giving everyone involved a small but powerful adrenaline rush which will disperse any feelings of potentially dangerous tiredness.

2. Pull up close to the car/tractor/police car/coach/scooter/bicycle/pedestrian that needs to be overtaken. I mean close. I mean closer than you'd comfortably park.

3. Now begin to sway from side to side. Begin to look a gap in the oncoming traffic. If possible, look for an approaching blind corner.

4. Having found your blind corner, make your move. If you're lucky, you haven't yet applied your brakes so you can simply sail on through.

5. Once you're out and careering down the wrong side of the road, be brave. You can make this. Keep your foot flat down.

6. Now, the object you're overtaking may well decide to overtake a vehicle in front of them. They cannot be blamed for this manoeuvre as, chances are, they've not looked in their rear-view mirror (see above). If this happens, keep going but move a little further to the left.

7. Sound your horn. Whether things are going well or not, sound your horn. This lets everyone know where you are and what you're doing.

8. Oncoming traffic may appear further than it actually is. What may appear to be a scooter may, in fact, be a coach with one headlight. Don't panic ...yet. Keep going. They will flash their headlights or they may turn their full beams on (although it has to be asked, why is it necessary to blind someone who is already in a rather dangerous situation?). Depending on the distance of the oncoming vehicle, they can decide what action to take (as there's not a whole lot you can do besides dropping down into second gear, flooring it and hoping the engine doesn't ignite). They won't slow down but they may decide to stop accelerating. They may ease into the hard shoulder / shrubbery / cotton field. However if you are on a mountain road with no room for a '3 car trick', you may want to put your seat belt on and attempt to abort.

9. Having successfully passed the vehicle, slowly move back into your own lane. Rushing back will give the impression to other road users that you were unnerved during your manoeuvre. Do not show fear.

10. Most importantly, throughout this whole process, remember these simple rules. a) Use the horn often. b) Don't attach seat belts unless absolutely necessary. c) Try not to drop your cigarette / beer / phone / child.I've drawn a flow chart that you can attach to your dashboard should you ever decide to rent a car here.

In the words of a sticker I saw on the back of a school bus yesterday, 'Allah Korusun' ('May God protect you').


Tuesday 22 August 2006

It's the pits

In celebration of surviving the impromptu BBQ yesterday, I decided to take another step towards being a Turkish man.

The other day I was wearing a rather tatty t-shirt with holes in various places. A friend of mine saw some hair protruding from an armpit hole and made a lunge for it.

"You animal! You filthy animal!" he commented. "Why do you not shave this?". Enter my cousin stage left to join the ruck.
"You've never shaved this? Never?" asked my cousin in amazement.
"Never" I said. "In England it's only really women, gay men and cyclists who shave their armpits" I joked nervously.
"Are you saying I look gay?" asked my intimidatingly masculine friend.
"Erm, no. Not at all."

So today I took the plunge. Following a full debriefing (almost literally) I was armed with the knowledge of how Turkish men preen themselves. Into the bathroom I trotted with a Gillette sensor excel 2, some shaving cream and a concerned look.

First the armpits. Not half as bad as I thought it would be. It got a little sore after hacking away at 17 years of growth but that was nothing to the pain of applying the lemon cologne. This was an assumption I'd made which I fear was wrong.

Next, after a swig of raki, I was ready to tackle the tackle. Turkish men like to keep their bits and pieces nice and tidy so, with an 'in for a New Kurus in for a New Turkish Lira' attitude, I lowered the Gillette. You might remember the first time you took a razor to your face. Remember how you thought you'd cut your ears off? Well when you take a razor to your Jacobs you start again from scratch, and you know the stakes are higher.

Amazingly, everything went according to plan (not that I really had a detailed plan, it was more a voyage of discovery). I did, however, learn from the armpit fiasco and omitted the lemon cologne. Despite having the Macc Lads lyric "he can splash Brut all over his bollocks" repeating in my head, I fear I'm not that man.

Watch this space as my family and friends continue their insistance that, in order to truly become Turkish, I have to be circumsized. If you listen closely, you can hear my uncle sharpening his nail scissors.

Yours with a spring in my step and a shaving rash on my inner thigh.


Monday 21 August 2006

Don't put these anywhere near my child's arse

These nappies might need a rebrand before attacking the British market.

Job's a good'n!

Well it looks like the hard work has paid off. The fire is now under control and a small plume of smoke is all that remains.

The planes were getting extremely close to my balcony as they skimmed the top of my building. In fact they were so close, I could clearly read the text on the side of them and so I'd like to say a big 'thank you' to Istanbul buyuksehir belediyesi for their help in putting this bad boy out.

...can you pass the ashtray?


I love the smell of olive trees burning in the morning

We had some fun yesterday. Apparently the mountain of Meryemana caught fire and quickly burned all they way to Kusadasi. They brought in helicopters to deal with the blaze but as night fell, they had to abandon. Luckily it seemed to die just as it reached the city limits. It ended about 500m from my cousin's house on the outskirts of town. You can see some shots I took.

So we sat on the balcony eating ice-cream watching the fire (well, anything we can do to help) then we heard shots as a wedding party on the island nearby started to get drunk and excited. My step-brother ushered me inside as apparently a number of people are killed each year on balconies by stray bullets.

This morning I was woken by the sound of helicopters and planes resuming their battle with the blaze. It doesn't look like there's much left on this side of the mountain now but a huge area must have burned last night. The big concern is how this is going to affect the local ecology over the coming years.

How did it start? People are talking about the PKK (the Kurdish liberation army) but I think it's more likely that someone chucked a fag out the window or a farmer got a little excited when burning some weeds. Seeing as we're having the hottest period of the year, it doesn't take much to send the whole bloody country up.

The highlight for me was standing watching the fire and having a fag with a friend. "Just bring me the man who started this and I'll shit in his mouth" he said then promptly flicked his fag into some nearby shrubbery and walked away.

Yours heading to the hills for a barbie


Nice legs, shame about the fez

Well I suppose I should introduce myself. My name is Billy but my friends call me Billfred or Billfredo or Keriz or Billyorum. I was born and raised in the cliched London suburbia of Surbiton. After 31 years of the same scenery, I felt it was time for a change and so moved to the holiday resort of Kusadasi on the Aegean coast of Turkey. Why Kusadasi? We'll it's my father's home town and coming from mixed (English/Turkish) origins, I have a chance for a rare insight into the Turkish culture.

I am now 3 months into my emigration now and am slowly learning the language and the culture but friends thought it would be a good idea to setup a blog as the stories I'm sending home are occasionally entertaining.

Anyways, that's the build up, on with the show.