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 My contact lenses are about 4 months out of date and so I had to rely on the promise that everything underwater is magnified by 25 (insert your own 'looking down the front of the trunks' gag here).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.