Thursday, 2 May 2013

Looking back at the Istanbul Olympics–Dateline 2020

Monday 24th August 2020 – Istanbul Press Centre

Well, the games have come and like a Usain Bolt sprint they have gone again in double quick time. All the competitors returned to the Olympic arena last night to watch the closing ceremony and listen to the closing speeches by President Erdogan and Olympic President Jacques Rogge. President Erdogan, who was also celebrating being made lifetime President, congratulated all the winning medalist and confirmed his commitment to supply them with a years supply of Ayran  – the Turkish national drink of champions and a copy of the koran. Olympic President Rogge, looking slightly bemused and disheveled  after two weeks that saw the Olympic games as never seen before, declared in a wavering voice, the Istanbul Olympic games as “The different games”. The games were then ended by the lowering of the Olympic flag and a mass picnic on the Olympic field, where days earlier javelins and shot puts had whistled by. In a break from tradition the Olympic flame was not extinguished so as to allow the gathered picnickers a place to barbecue the mountains of Kofte supplied by the ruling AKP Party – the party of champions. So, let’s look back at the Istanbul Olympics and at those “different games”

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The President milks the adulation 

Saturday 8th August 2020- The Opening Ceremony

Beijing had it’s  2000 drummers, London had it’s Queen parachuting so Istanbul had a lot to live up to to stamp it’s name on the most famous sporting event in the World. No one could have ever expected what was time come though. As the sounds of Cat Stevens, or as he known these days Yusuf Islam sprang out, a make shift mosque rose from the ground with the President of the country on top of the minaret in a two handed wave to all the world. As he stood milking the applause, the world stood in jaw dropping awe as a 60 year old plus transvestite looking woman called Bulent, wearing a jetpack flew through the air. “El Presedente..El Presedente ..El Presedente, screamed the gathered 50,000 souls at the man on the minaret. Apparently it was only coincidence that the El Presedente Army, were all in the Olympic rifle squad and all aiming their rifles into the crowd! The evening continued with fine dance displays from all four corners of the country before the crowd stood and awaited for Mehmet from Aygaz – the Gas of champions, to supply the tup to light the Olympic flame. Unfortunately, Mehmet was rang out of hours , resulting in a thirty minute delay.

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Mehmet delivers the Olympic Gas

Finally, he arrived, and even did the montage. With that, the gas was opened and up the steps appeared one of Turkey’s most famous faces, Ibrahim Tatlesis, limping his way with Olympic torch in one hand and walking stick in the other. As the lights dimmed Ibo, weaved his way onwards and upwards, taking a full fifteen minutes to reach his target. Fifteen minutes of continues gas flow! Teary eyed the Turkish crowd watched in silence as  he lowered the Olympic Torch to the flame which ignited in a violent whoosh. A sea of white foam sprang from all sides to extinguish poor Ibo!. Thankfully though, the Olympic flame was alight and with it, the first ten rows of the main stand. As the chorus of fire engines filled this most special of Istanbul nights. the flames that rose signaled for the games to start.

The Olympic flame - sponsored by Aygaz - the Gas of champions!
Monday 10th August 2020 – Gozde Site, 244 Sok: Erdogan Mah, Kayseri

Today started with the welcome announcement that the final members of the Chinese squad..all 7000 of them had finally arrived in Turkey. Booking their flights with Turkish airlines – the airline of champions, the Chinese Olympic committee were totally unaware of the Turkish Airlines,  policy of men and woman not being allowed to travel on the same flight. Thus some members had been living in Beijing airport for two weeks prior.

Olympic diving final was the highlight of the day as 5000 gathered at the ten million dollar Aquatic Centre in Kayseri, to witness one of the Olympics blue ribbon events. The Turkish water authority though had not been informed. Working on a new drainage system to the new 50 million dollar Presidential palace, the water supply had been cut off the night before, leaving 5000 pairs of eyes staring at an Olympic size swimming pool, totally devoid of anything apart from a man called Osman,  who was just finishing the last bit of grouting. Frantic phone calls were made as the angered eyes of the Olympic committee looked on in disgust. Slowly the crowd were appeased by an announcement that informed all that Osman the Grouter’s home was close  by and his apartment block had a small swimming pool that could just about hold the event as long as the world’s finest divers didn’t mind diving from his balcony five floors above the pool. The arena emptied in seconds as a mass stampede made it’s way to Osman’s pool followed in a chain of taxis with the world’s divers inside. The occupants of Gozde site, where Osman’s modest apartment was situated, welcomed all with typical Turkish hospitality, as 5000 squeezed, pushed and tightened to every single available space – some even choosing the shallow end of the pool! With this the event was held with the four judges situated opposite on Cemel amca’s balcony. The eventual winner being Brazil’s Fabio de Gomes de Silva. The eventual loser being Moldova’s Petre Malanovich, who miscalculated his dive and landed on Ebru Teyze’s apartment balcony below!…

Petre Malanovich still smiling after his unfortunate balcony accident

Thursday 13th August 2020 – Lara Beach, Antalya

Antalya had been waiting for the woman’s beach volleyball event for years, or should we say the men had been waiting. Tickets for the 10,000 capacity arena had sold out within days, and tickets had been swapping hands ten times their original face value in coffee shops and cafes as the men sweated in anticipation to see some of the world’s finesse woman’s sports bodies in tight fitting costumes. Queues for the best seats had started a full two days before the event with the more commercial savvy setting up stalls selling man size kleenez at three times the value. The atmosphere was highly charged, as the Antalya summer sun beat down on the mass male crowd. Unfortunately, though, El Presedente , had pushed through a last minute decree that would stop the anticipated collective of excitement in it’s tracks. “Gentleman welcome onto the court the woman’s beach volleyball teams of Brazil and the USA” came the stadium announcement to thunderous applause. 10,000 male bodies, edged to the end of their seats, hearts beating, eyes as wide as plates, as the Olympic theme music screamed out. Wait though – what was this?. Four woman came to the court, only identified that they were woman by the total covering of their bodies in black burkas!

The Brazilian woman@s beach volleyball team limber up
The ensuing riot lasted all day and still nobody knows who won the event!

Saturday 15th August 2020 – The National Gymnastic centre Ankara

The day started off controversially, as questions were being asked as to how Turkey had won every medal in the Judo, Taekwondo, Boxing and wrestling events. Reports coming from competitors of other countries testify that all were covered in Olive oil and made to take part in combat after being told “ here is Turkey and we don’t fight without oil!”. Investigations will take place after the investigation committee have been furnished with anything they require from El Presendente!

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The Turkish Judo team prepare for the battle ahead
Further tragedy struck as we entered the final day of the Men’s gymnastics and the men’s bars. The world’s finest gymnast entered to a totally empty arena. Woman being forbidden from the event as to not send them into temptation on seeing bulging muscled men in tight shorts. Men, didn’t want to see it either and saved their money for the woman’s event! The tragic moment came when Russian Vladimir Konsenski was attempting a forward dive and snatch on the Men’s bars. Regrettably workmen laying cables to El Presendent’s new 20 million dollar private apartment cut through an electric cable sending the whole arena into darkness – and poor Vladimir five meters up and no way to see the bar. His body is expected to be returned home later today!

Monday 17th August 2020 – El Presedente stadium, Trabzon

The British, New Zealand and Australian sailing teams lodged an official complaint to the Olympic committee over the venue of the regatta events. They felt that choosing The Dardanelles straits in Gallipoli was slightly inappropriate.  Banners declaring ‘ You lost here once before remember” flying from Turkish vessels were deemed not totally in line with the Olympic spirit.

Meanwhile, confusion reigned at the much awaited  Fencing event in Trabzon. The confusion appears to be the fault of Google translator, as the Turkish Fencing team arrived at the event with chicken wire, two metre long wooden poles and a sledgehammer.

Wednesday 19th August 2020 – Olympic Village, Istanbul

A major set back took place today at the Olympic village when it came to light that all the specially built apartments housing the 16,000 Olympians had no tapus issued. Regrettably this has resulted in all the competitors  being evicted after the owner of the land, Suleyman Demir, issued an immediate reclaim on the properties. Refugee type tents, issued by the Red Cross have been erected in parks all over Istanbul to house the athletes.  An urgent telephone appeal requesting food was successful and Mehmet Usta”s Kokerec emporium – the Kokerec of champions, will feed the competitors for the remainder of their stay.

Friday 21st August 2020 – The Erdogan Olympic Stadium, Istanbul

So, we came to the one of the most equally awaited events, the Men’s 100 meters final. Slightly unusual at this Olympics as no journalist were there to witness it. Some of which had returned home in disgust at having to pay 26 dollars for a beer. Others arrested for having the audacity to script negative comments in the world’s press regarding El Presedente. Eye witness of the 100 meters final have reported it to be one of the most incredible sporting events of modern times. Hushed silence descended on the stadium as the runners entered their lanes. Settled, they were commanded to be “on your marks”. Usain Bolt, the favorite crossing himself before being the last to stretch out his long legs in anticipation of the race ahead. You could hear a pin drop in the stadium as the capacity crowd nervously anticipated the start. Unfortunately, before the starting official could fire the starting gun, the sound of the call for prayer rang out from the twenty mosque surrounding the stadium and with that the stadium was in uproar as it’s occupants hurriedly made their way to the exits – including the starting official. After an hour, the fastest men in the world had had enough and retired back to their Red Cross tents.

In their absence, it was decided to hold the race with ten volunteers, including El Presedente, who although coming last with twenty meters to go had incredible luck as a Presedente’s Guard’s gun accidently fired, maiming the nine runners in front of him. El Presedente – Olympic 100 meters champion, is there no end to this man’s talents?

Saturday 22nd August 2020  - The Taurus Mountains, Adana

And so to the final day, which started of with the great news that the 1 billion dollar new Olympic bridge across the Bosphoros, designed to alleviate traffic congestion during the Olympic events, will start construction next month. Unfortunately the news was balanced in the negative, as construction workers, building the new 3 billion dollar rail tunnel under the Bosphoros had come up in Azerbaijan!

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Azerbaijan welcomes the Turkish Olympic commitee

So, to the final event. Twenty six miles, or if you like forty two kilometers of arduous, strength zapping running – a testimony of man’s endurance., the Marathon. Many eye brows were raised, when the venue of the event was announced. The Taurus Mountain range in Adana, with it’s long winding steep hills and near 50 degree heat, seemed such an inappropriate location for such an event. Thus, it proved to be – as one by one the runners fell by the wayside, collapsing and gasping for breath and water. Until, just one man stayed  - Mehmet Sekercioglu, a 63 year old goat herder who crossed the line in an incredible time of 4:36:24. As he was lofted onto the shoulders  and carried away by the Turkish support along with his herd of 10 goats he was quoted as saying “What Olympics – I do this route everyday” a true national treasure. With that the games were over and as The Olympic President was to say the next day this really was the “different” games but so much more fun!

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2020 Mens Olympic Marathon winner Mehmet Sekercioglu

Sunday, 28 April 2013

With thy body I thee honor!

A few days ago, in a fit of intellectual wanting, I was flicking through the TED Talks website. I viewed some great lectures, most of which went like a Turkish airlines flight coming onto land, i.e over my head. Then up popped one by Mustafa Aykol, a well respected journalist for the Turkish Hurriyet Daily news. In his well presented and articulated oratory at Warwick University in England, he hypothesized that most of the things we associate with Islam are in fact tribal traditions and not connected with Islam at all, the wearing of headscarves and polygamy were some examples he conveyed.  It was a most enlightening talk, much appreciated by those gathered who warmly gave him a rousing round of applause at the end. Even myself was most impressed and definitely he gave me something to think about. Although, there was one area he mentioned so briefly if you had sneezed you would probably have missed it. Honor killings, again were something that had it’s roots solely in the traditions of tribes and not in the Koran according to Mr Aykol. 

Now, I mention this as this week, saw another horrific murder of a woman in Turkey by the crime known as “Honor killing” – was there ever such a perfect oxymoron as this? Dilek Duyuş a 34 year old woman was murdered by four men, including her ex-husband . Immediately all arrested the husband declared, obviously with a sense of pride “my honor is restored’. The question is where does this man’s “honor” come from? Does it, as Mr Aykol suggest come from a deep rooted past tribal tradition or as some believe from the man’s indoctrination into his faith.

Honor killings – murder would seem a more appropriate verb, are of course not a modern phenomenon. For those that remember their Shakespeare will remember the Bard’s tragedy Titus Andronicus. Set in the time of the Roman Empire, Lavina, the hero's daughter had been raped and mutilated, and Andronicus contemplated her "honor" killing.

Titus: Was it well done of rash Virginius
To slay his daughter with his own right hand
Because she was enforced, stained and
Saturninus: It was, Andronicus...
Because the girl should not survive her shame

With this Lavina’s fate was sealed.


The origin of honor killings and the control of women is evidenced throughout history in the culture and tradition of many regions. Roman law gave complete control to the men of the family for both their children and wives. Under these laws, the lives of children and wives were at the sole discretion of the men in their family. Ancient Roman Law also established historical roots of honor killings through the law stating that women found guilty of adultery could be killed by their husband in whatever manner the husband desired. In ancient Rome, being raped was seen as dishonorable to the point of destroying a woman's life and reputation, and honor killing was supposed to be a "merciful" act.[In ancient Greece also, the lives of women were dictated by their husbands as women were considered socially below males. So, with this it would seem that the “honor by killing” date back to even before the Faith of Islam was born. Which in turn would seem that Mustafa Aykol’s reasoning that this most wicked of crimes is not an Islamic problem but a world and tribal one.

Instinctively though, the obvious flaw in Mr Aykot’s rational is the time frame on which he works on. The traditional tribalism of ancient Rome and Greece fell by the wayside and with it the act. Picking up the baton Islam, although no obvious scripture in the Koran supports the crime, seems to have ran with it and continues to this day. The parasitic evil of honor killings jumped onto it’s  back, unfortunately it is a parasite that Islam does not seem to want to scratch off and silently allows it to live deep inside it’s culture and fester accordingly.  In modern times according to statistics by Berkley University in 2010 titled, The Modern Face of Honor Killing: Factors, Legal Issues, and Policy Recommendation, 93% of all honor based murders are committed in the Islamic world. Mr Aykol may have a point that the crime has it’s roots in tribal societies, however the branches are now fully grown in the lands of his  faith – and to be ignored at the peril of the life’s of thousands of woman throughout the world. 

One can rightly understand Mr Aykol’s need to want to protect his faith in any negative portrayal. Surely though, that protection has to stop when woman are being murdered throughout that faith and throughout the Islamic world.  One does not need to look further then Mr Aykol’s own country to see the scale of the problem. According to the last governmental statistics in 2007, State Minister Nimet Çubukçu's  revealed that the number of "honor killings" in Turkey in the five years previous. In that time span 1,806 women died from murders committed by their families who believe their daughters,wifes, sisters had somehow disrespected the family honor. Another 5,375 committed suicide in the same time frame. These numbers show that one woman dies from an honor killing each day. A truly shocking number! Mr Çubukçu's, solution for these wicked crimes?  Opening “courses” for woman throughout Turkey. Wouldn’t it have been better if the courses were directed at the male gender?

Until recently, under Turkish law honour killers could get a reduced sentence claiming provocation. However, four years ago, as part of Turkey's campaign to join the European Union, it introduced a mandatory life sentence for the crime. But the change in the law hasn't reduced the killings. Instead it appears to have given rise to a sinister new twist. That of forced suicides of woman seen to have stained their honor thus saving a male family member the hassle of killing and the hassle of a life sentence. The city of Batman for example, has seen a distinct rise of female suicide since the new law was introduced.

Turkish woman are starting to fight back though. Using the International day for women, in the past couple of years demonstrations have taken place in some of the larger cities in the country. In Ankara, 2000 marched last year decrying the acts that have been committed against their own gender. Sadly though, the marches do not seem to extend to some of the more Eastern cities where the core of the problem would seem to be. Alas, it is when the male species of the country join alongside them, that is when change may slowly be seen

What really can be done though to stop the rivers of female blood flowing day by day, month by month and year by year? Hopefully something better than what was once suggested by Iraqi Accord Front MP Hashim al-Taee. Who in 2008 incredulously suggested.

“A woman might be asked to practice prostitution for money than be killed for her honor. Economic solutions are needed - not legal ones.”

While one can congratulate the Turkish government for increasing the jail time for the murderer, it also must address the motivations behind honor killing, it also must address the consequences of the practice, as well as the circumstances which perpetuate it. The creation of more shelters for woman in danger threatened with an honor killing will provide protection for potential victims.

Other helpful facilities that governments could provide include juvenile-detention- educational centers where under-age perpetrators can be educated about the practice’s implications on legal and human rights. Educational institutions should include in their curriculums a mandatory segment on religion, which explains that honor killing is not condoned by but, in fact, goes against religious values. In addition, Turkish penal code should order the state to mandatorily and permanently take custody over any minors in the care of an honor killing’s defendant. Such a policy could deter future generations from learning and practicing the same custom of murder as their care givers.

Finishing back where I started, Mustafa Aykol, is true that honor murders are not an Islamic creation, in fact nor a creation of any of the Abrahamic faiths. However, Turkey is not a tribe anymore, it is a country.  A country that strives to show to the world it is new, modern and progressive. It is also a country with a Prime Minister who Mr Aykol openly supports in his articles in the Turkish and World press. A Prime Minister who In 2010, talking to invited representatives of women's organizations at the Dolmabahce Palace in Istanbul  confessed: "I don't believe in equality between men and women.". A Prime Minister, that Mustafa Aykol supports who in 2011 on International Women's Day, whilst  discussing violence against women and statistics stating that so-called honor killings had increased 14-fold in Turkey from 2002 to 2009 declared “ it was only because more murders were being reported, and that there are basically few acts of violence against women”.  When a male role model, that a vast number of Turkish males follow, speaks with such flippancy at crimes against the women of Turkey, is there really any hope?

Unfortunately, the name of Dilek Duyuş, the poor unfortunate woman, murdered in the name of honor this week, is destined to just be another statistic. A faceless number buried deep under the ground just as the appalling crime that stole her soul is being done.


Sunday, 21 April 2013

So you want to be a Turk?

 It had been four years since my sorry butt had graced the well worn seat of a Turkish airlines flight and delivered me into the country that I found myself residing in. Just like the landing of the Turkish airline flight, the four years had been bumpy! However, now I found myself extremely contented and happily married and fully settled in Turkey. There was one slight problem though, even though I considered this country as now my home – it wasn’t! To confirm that it wasn’t, year on year I would have to stroll along to the main police station and have a stamp firmly impressed into a little blue book called a “Yabancilara Mahsus Ikimet Tezkeresi” which indicated I was a foreigner and only residing in the promised land.  The stamp in the book didn’t come cheap, and still doesn’t. There was only one way around it, I would have to become a Turk!


Arriving home from the police station after another stamp in the “Ikemet” and handing over a fist full of Lira, I opened my laptop. “ How do I apply to become a Turkish citizen” Google threw back the answer via the Turkish citizenship website!

*S/he should be at the age of consent according to his/her national law (if s/he is not a citizen of any country, Turkish law is taken into consideration which requires 18 years old as the age of consent

No problem there – I was on my way!

*S/he should reside in Turkey for the last five years and should have the intention of settling in Turkey (This condition may not be applicable to those who are married to a Turkish national or those with Turkish origin)

I was married to a Turkish woman – This was citizenship thing was easy!

*S/he should be in good health

Ok, I had recently had an sorry episode of being booted up the posterior in a football match, which in turn caused a cut in the back passage. This engaged me in the embarrassing situation of having to go to the local hospital emergency department with a panty pad down the back of my shorts! –  I surmised that the Citizenship office wouldn’t want an inspection in my “rusty sheriff's badge” area, so won’t mention that to them, I thought!

*S/he should have an adequate command of  Turkish

I can order a kebab in Turkish, adequate for me!

*S/he should have enough financial resources to support himself/herself and his/her family in Turkey

I was on the phone immediately to home “Dad can you transfer some money into my account “

*The applicant must own a Sezun Aksu CD and swear allegiance to the King known as Ibrahim Tatlises. 

Ok I made that one up!

So with all those ticked off, I embraced my wife firmly and declared to her “ Darling I am going to be one of you!” She pushed me away abruptly “ You’re having a sex change?”  - oh the good old Turkish wit!

A few days later me and the good lady found ourselves standing in front of man at the “Vatandaşlık Müdürlüğübetter known as the Citizenship Bureau. Smilingly I informed the man “ I want to be a Turk”, unsmilingly he handed me a photocopied piece of paper along with a bellow of smoke from his cheap cigarette. On it was a catalogue as long as an obese families grocery shopping list!. All detailing every single document I required to complete the first stage on the long road of becoming “one of them”.

We sat in a local coffee shop eating pastry whilst scrutinizing the list in front of us! Bank statements, birth certificate, wedding certificate, medical certificate, social security information, a police check record, notice from the British consulate, some documents in autocratic speak, A401 document, B578 document, some document to prove what side of bed I got out on  – the list went on!.  Along with eight passport photos and all foreign documents to be translated into Turkish. The list finished with a note in black bold type : All forms must be duplicated three times and installed in a three clear plastic folder, supplied by yourself.
Looking forlornly at the lexicon of demands in front of me, my wife being a typical “roll up the sleeves and get it done” type of person, shrugged her shoulders and notified me to eat up, we have to get started. And get started we did!

The next two days were spent bombing around the streets of Antalya in search of  documents , certificates, and evidence of my being. Badgering official looking employees at every stage. Being sent there to be told “go there” and then informed “to return there” again with a few lira needed in payment at every junction.  Our days were industrious and we were rewarded with the majority of the items required. Eight passport photos from Mehmet, our local photographer, were quickly snapped and printed and if I do say so myself, quite dashing I looked.  Proving it’s not what you know but who, a full A1 health certificate was obtained without even having my bits held and being told “cough”. Supplied by a doctor, Father of one of my students whose medical examination of me extended to “Hi Mike – How are you?” My response of “ I am fine Cem bey” was good enough for him and the medical was over and the certificate duly issued.

On the third day, we returned to the Vatandaşlık Müdürlüğü, via the local stationary shop to get everything triplicated and to obtain the much needed clear plastic folders. Handing them over to the same man who had handed me the list not three days before, “ We have done everything required and in three folders” I proudly said. He then perused, investigated, scrutinized every line of every document, occasionally glancing up at me as I stood nervously . “We will be in touch” he officiously replied! – Stage one over.

The reality however was they didn’t get in touch, and after a month things had gone decidedly quiet. Coming back from work one day, technically something I was not legally allowed to do, I checked the postbox. A small note was sandwiched between the phone bill and a flyer for some new salon recently opened offering body care. I quickly unlocked the apartment door and passed the note to my wife who was up to her eyes in washing. She ran her eyes over it quickly “what day is it today?” she asked nervously. “20th May” I replied. “Ok”  she responded without taking her eyes away from the fast spinning washing machine “the police are coming tomorrow to talk to us about the citizenship application” . Stage two was about to start.

Now, I have never been a lover of the Police, not that I have ever had any personal dealing with them, except a rather weird sobriety test in New York once, which included me stood crossed legged on the side of a road while attempting to touch my nose. Holding nothing against these fine up standing  men and woman who protect us so bravely (cough), I just have never reacted well in front of anything or anyone official. Turkish police officers in my home were about as welcome as typhoid for me!

Both sitting anxiously and in silence we waited  expectantly for the visit.  It wasn’t long coming, 9.15am precisely the doorbell rang it’s annoying bird whistling chime. I pressed the front door release, waiting with the apartment door open as the chugging sound of the apartment block lift signaled they were on their way . Within seconds the lift door slid open and two men, dressed in jeans and jumpers, stood before me. “Oh sorry, I was waiting for someone else,?” I screeched with annoyance. “Michael bey?” one looked at me with non smiling eyes. “yes that’s me”. my reply came . “We are from the Antalya police we informed you we were coming”. I stood in shocked silence not expecting two men to be dressed like the Turkish equivalent of Starsky and Hutch before me, then noticing one of the plastic clear folders we had handed in at the Vatandaşlık Müdürlüğü . My wife broke the silence and quickly hurried them in with as much enthusiasm and smiles as she could muster whilst offering them our best house slippers.

Starsky and Hutch arrive for interrogation
“Please sit” my wife offered. One of them accepted her offer, one of them didn’t. Hutch, the standing one decided he didn’t want to be part of the questioning process and rudely took himself off around our apartment on an unguided tour. Starsky, sat, with his unshaven face inspecting me from top to bottom running his hand over his mouth before throwing me my first interrogatory “So Michael bey, you have been here now for four years so obviously you speak good Turkish”. “ So so, it could be better but I am learning slowly” I smilingly replied in the best Turkish I could assemble. The smile wasn’t returned and my answer was not registered with him as he started a verbal Kalashnikov like series of questions. It was the obscurity of the interrogatories that confounded me. “What are the names of your in-laws” being the first. It continued, “where and where was your Father-in-law born?”, “When is your wife’s sister’s birthday?” “ What star sign is your wife?” “Who took your wedding photos?” I answered them all as best as I could and as honestly as possible. Each question designed to confuse and discomfort me. All the time Starsky, sat back comfortably, seemingly enjoying my discomfort, even lighting a cigarette without feeling the need to ask. The next one was blunt and direct “Are you in a marriage to gain Turkish citizenship?” . I replied as I always do when under duress, with a one liner “Can I phone a friend?” I laughingly responded. “Why do you want to phone a friend don’t you know?”. His stern, surprised face confirming the joke went blowing in the wind along with his cigarette smoke. My wife, explained something to him in Turkish, what exactly I had no idea as my mind had been transfixed on Hutch who stood in the hallway, looking at a hung framed football shirt, signed by old team mates. “Which team is this?” he shouted down the hallway to the two stressed and one relaxed souls, who turned as one . I took it as a chance to escape my interrogator. I stood quickly and walked over to Hutch…Starsky followed two paces behind me.

“It’s my old team shirt” I announced proudly. Then continuing to explain how football had been part my profession for a small part of my life. With that the storm clouds of awkward questioning parted into the sunshine of three men all with a common love for football. We all sat,while my wife made tea and spent the next thirty minutes talking about teams, players, formations. “Do you know Iddaa Mike bey?” Hutch asked me. I did know Iddaa, it is the Turkish equivalent of the English football pools. Hearing that I knew but never played, Starsky reached into the inside pocket of his well worn real leather jacket and unfolded an Iddaa form with all the forthcoming matches. Matches, that were scrutinized by them and the interrogation started again with a whole new format. “ Will Bristol City beat Nottingham Forest?”. “Can Cardiff win at Ipswich?” with each one of my insights slowly based on me being a native of those teams country, Starsky and Hutch filled out their Iddaa forum with permutations of which teams would win and lose in the week ahead.
They finally left, with a firm handshake and wishing me luck on my citizenship adventure – Stage two was complete.

Again silence for a month or so. I was  starting to worry that my football predictions had not gone well with Starsky and Hutch resulting them in losing money on their bets. Then out of the blue came a brown envelope containing another request from Antalya’s Police department. This time ordering me to some obscure police station on the edge of the city to have my finger prints taken for public records. It wouldn’t be the first time I had had my finger prints taken. A trip to my local police station back home when I was ten my previous experience. Organized by the school, the trip was scripted as a “community project” – even at ten I understood it to be a warning of “if you are naughty…”. Even locking us in a cell for five minutes to get a feel for the place. The warning obviously had the desired affect and as stated earlier had never been in trouble. However, if anything this episode was less daunting than the previous one. My prints were taken, my height and weight recorded all by a very attractive police woman who used the opportunity to practice her English. I was in and out in an hour even being invited to the police canteen to drink coffee, which I accepted. Stage three was completed!

Months drifted by, not a word was forthcoming. No letters arrived, no notes in the postbox  It seemed the process had ground to a sudden halt. So long in fact that I had stopped thinking about it and was resigned to another massive payment for residence fees for another year, which was coming soon. Sat on the bus, day dreaming out the window on a beautiful late summer morning, the vibration on my phone indicated a message. A number I didn’t recognize, spam sms no doubt offering me a new phone package. Alas, it was a message from the Citizenship bureau requesting for me to visit them urgently. As luck would have it, I was passing there on the bus I was on, so stopped prematurely outside their offices. I marched up the stairs to be confronted by “Mr Smile” the guy who so long ago now had passed me the long list of requirements. His demeanor had not wavered. still sullen, officious and unsmiling. "Do you wish to change your name to a Turkish sounding one?” he barked to me. The decision had to be made there and then!. I declined and as explained here something I later wished I had done.   My decision in the adverse reply didn’t seem to be to Mr Smile’s liking, as he looked at me distainly before declaring “ You must be here on Friday 27th September at 11.30am”. Before I could ask why he continued “ You will have your Turkish speaking test”. My heart sank!

Whilst reading this, you may have gained the impression that yours truly has an excellent command of Turkish to be able to endure all this officialdom and questioning. Seven years on from the Citizenship experience my Turkish has improved but at that time I can only describe my Turkish as an oral disaster. I seemed to have had accumulated a nice collection of Turkish words in my head, with no grammar structure to make them understandable. Sentences such as “ Do you want a coffee” became “ coffee want you”. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t – most definitely in an oral Turkish test it wouldn’t. I checked the date on my phone Thursday 19th September, I had one week to learn Turkish.

It was impossible, never having being any good at test or exams, I knew that the task of building my Turkish to any level of acceptance was about as likely as discovering I had woken one morning and morphed into Recep tayip Erdogan, the Turkish Prime Minister. I contacted a friend, who had to endure the process a few years before. His, recollection of his Turkish exam was not appealing as he listed all the questions that he had been required to answer, finishing with quoting the Turkish national anthem word for word.  He did advice me though, to forget learning Turkish grammar per say, but input into my brain scripts as an actor would . Quoting all the questions he had been asked, I wrote them down, and for the next five days and nights practiced the precise answers in my small brained head. Like some demented entertainer, I stood in the mirror practicing the lines I would need to get me through this torturous ordeal – and hoping that the same questions , as asked to my friend would be the same for me. After five days, I had perfected them, my wife even helping me with the pronunciation.   Last day, The Turkish National anthem, for hour upon hour I read it, sang it, spoke it, whispered it and perused over every word, mostly having no idea what they meant. The day ended with me being able to recite just three lines of it- I was useless. I knew how Turks consider the National Anthem, it is treated as much as a national symbol as the stars and crescent moon imprinted on the Turkish flag. It was to be my failure I just knew it!

We patiently sat outside the room where my next interrogators had gathered. Surprisingly, myself  not being the only one going through this.  We watched a blonde haired Russian girl enter before us. Her husband comforting her as she knocked on the door. Five minutes later he was comforting her again as she returned to the waiting eyes outside, in tears! This was going to be worse than I thought. We waited and waited outside for our turn and just as the clock struck midday we were informed to enter. Excelling a long breath I knocked and entered with my wife by my side. She being instructed to sit behind me and me instructed to sit on a chair in front of a horseshoe shaped collection of five authoritative men. Four of them in various uniforms and one directly in front me with a dark suit and red tie. He introduced himself as the Head of Citizenship and then introduced the collective around him. None of who registered with me .

It started! Firstly asking my name and surprisingly my home phone number, both batted back to them with no problem. “ Do you like Turkey”, now this seemed such a futile question. Who in their right mind would answer “ Bloody Hell no way, the food is awful, the weather too hot and if I see another Mustafa Kemal photo I will scream”. I gave a short answer in the positive as not to whisked away in a straightjacket . It continued, and my friends advice of memorizing answers worked superbly. I felt calm, relaxed and held my own in the onslaught from these five men of high office. Then it came, the thing I had been dreading “ Do you know the words to the Turkish national anthem” the uniformed man on the left asked. I glanced at him, noting his uniform dictated that he was from the Jendarme. It was my biggest fear!. My mouth dried as I attempted the first line. “Korkma, sön……..”. I barely stuttered before my memory closed down. I apologised and asked to try again“Korkma, sön….Korkma, sönmez …Kork…..Korkma, sönmez bu ”. I just couldn’t do it and in my state of despair I could actually hear singing coming through the half opened window behind me. I tried again, but noticed that the collective gathering were speaking amongst themselves and looking at their watches. As one they all stood up and shook my hand and walked past me. It was then I realized the singing outside was the sound of the call to prayer from the city center mosque. The upshot being that my probers had to call time on my Turkish exam to attend Friday prayers. I had been saved by an act of God! – Stage four, the final stage was over!

With that all behind me it was just a case of sitting and waiting, and waiting and waiting. Five months to be precise. We had been assured that all was ok,however it transpired that the Government only issued ID cards twice a year and I had to wait my time. Arriving home one evening my wife showed me the letter from the Citizenship office informing me that I was now officially allowed to declare “ne mutlu turkum diyene” and that my Turkish ID card was awaiting for my collection. Next morning, me and my wife ran up the stairs at the Citizenship office. Stairs that we first climbed over a year before. Just like that time, we were met by Mr Smile, never changing, never smiling as he handed my ID card to me in exchanging for about ten signatures on separate forms. Later on inspection I realized that my name had been changed as explained here. It didn’t matter though, the trial and tribulation was over.

I was now a Turk!


Thursday, 18 April 2013

“…..I have been all over the world and…”

The room was first class, clean, spacious and warm. Food, plentiful and gratifying. Staff, kindness and helpful personified. So sat in my hotel room overlooking the graceful and winding Yesilirmak river in Amasya, I felt compelled to share my judgment on this lovely family run hotel. So, what better place to avail the travelling world of my thoughts then the mecca for the world’s wayfarers , the website On sending my post under the hotel’s name, I decided to check and see what others had experienced in this wonderful place. The first one on the list, not two weeks before me had written:

“ This hotel could best be described as an advertisement on how NOT to run a hotel. The food is mostly inedible and when I wanted to complain, the manager was never around and the staff’s English virtually zero. My stay in Amasya has been ruined because of this place"….definitely do not stay here”

I sat in wonderment of how someone just two weeks before me had viewed the same hotel in such total contrast to my own. The next posting on the list:

“ Here is a gem of a hotel, my stay in Amasya was enhanced staying here. I can not fault the staff and me and my husband, who is disabled, decided to eat in the hotel every evening as the food on offer was out of this world. First class hotel ”

So it continued, it seemed for every positive posting the laws of balance threw in one of discourse.  Of course, we all have different requirements, different standards of living and different attitudes to people and ultimately different opinions on what is classed as satisfactory and not. However the contrast in opinions based on this hotel was distinctly black and white!

Now, I have a passing interest in the hotel trade. My dear wife is a Front office manager in one of the multitude of five star resorts along the beautiful Antalya coastline. With this in mind, the contrasting reports on the Amasya hotel should not have taken me by surprise. In the summer months, not a week goes by when my poor wife is forced to answer an accusation by a guest who on return to their country had decided to seek compensation on some grievance experienced in her hotel. Interestingly, the majority of the complainants never raise an issue whilst undergoing their" “holiday from hell” but wait until their return home to vent their anger!

Take for example the summer of 2012. These are genuine complaints by guest received at her hotel, word for word.

“ We were informed by the brochure that the average daytime temperature in Antalya in July was 34.6 degrees. During the two weeks of our stay, on checking with the local meteorological office website, the average daytime temperature for the fourteen days was 39.7 degrees. Thus making it impossible for us to leave the air conditioned room”  - Franz Klein, Cologne

“ On squeezing the oranges in the breakfast hall using the machine provided we discovered the orange juice was not fresh!” – Olga Alexopoulo, St Petersburg  

“ Being a family run hotel me and my husband were amazed to see to see so many bikini clad woman, which made trips to the beach and pool uncomfortable for our children”  - Saif Hamad, Oman

“ I purchased a pair of Dolce and Gabbana sunglasses from the boutique situated in your hotel for 25 lira (approx 18 dollars) on returning home I have since discovered that the said sunglasses were in fact fake and a cheap imitation “ – Wolfgang Richter, Munich

“ My family came to the ****** Hotel along with Sister’s family. On comparing my one bedroom suite  we discovered it was a lot smaller than my sister’s two bedroom suite”  - Amanda Thorp, Sutton

“On using the hairdryer in our room, it was set to such a high temperature that my daughter had to undergo expensive  hospital treatment for burns to her hair when we returned to Moldova” – Domanica Cemerton, Chisinau

Amusing I think you will agree, however it has to be pointed out that these are not some throwaway lines on a website that most people, if they are intelligent enough, take with a pinch of salt. These are taken from official complaints that the hotel had to deal with on a legal level. They are costly, time consuming and damaging!. A few months ago, I was talking about this issue with my wife’s boss, the hotel manager, over a coffee. A likable, highly intelligent and experienced man with over 25 years experience in the tourist industry. He explained that in his hotel/resort that the percentage of guest that complain works out at less than 4%. “Seems, such a small amount in a resort that has upwards of 1500 holiday makers a week staying in the Summer season” I offered to him. He agreed, however went on to tell me that this 4%, cost in the region of 80,000 US dollars a year in legal cost, translation cost, and time taken by hotel staff to deal with these crazy complaints – although was honest enough to explain that some guest had genuine cause to complain!

Continuing with the website, I decided to look up some other hotels that I had stayed at in recent years. Some hotels that had been excellent, some that had been adequate and some that had been not so great. However none that I had ever felt such a degree of discomfort as to ever publicly complain.  Smilingly, I was happy to see the the well worn phrase “ …..this is the worst hotel I have ever stayed in” plastered in criticism on various hotels. The prelude to this sentence is of course always “ I have stayed in hotels all over the world and…..”. I just love it when someone writes that! I visualize that the persons “all over the world” equates to once being forced into an overnight stay at a Travelodge of the M6 after their Ford Fiesta broke down on the way back from a Take That concert at the Manchester Arena! Their second “world travel adventure” probably being , Julie’s Hen night In Dublin and staying in a Bed and Breakfast run by a lovely Irish lady called Mrs Donelly!. Not so much Phileas Fogg but Phyllis Bog standard!

To balance the scales, one would love to see a website set up by Hoteliers the world over entitled Great summaries of guest could be shared the world over baring entry into any hotel they step foot in! One can only imagine with joy at some of the entries:

GUEST NAME: Mikael Zblovaninch
COUNTRY of BIRTH: Bulgaria
HOTEL:  Black Eagle Hotel, Fethiye
DATE: 2.06.2012 – 16.06.2012

This tiresome individual stayed in our hotel during the dates above. Unfortunately it seemed that the gentleman has some type of allergy to water, thus it seems, making it unable for him to shower or wash during his stay with us. This allergy did not extend to all liquid post items though as proved by his ability to consume Vodka and cola from dawn to dusk. His inability to use the lavatory in the room still baffles us, unfortunately in his vodka induced slumber he seems to have  mistakenly understood that his bed was for urinating in – much to the discomfort of the chambermaids who had to endure changing urine soaked sheets day in and day out! I would not allow this man to stay in a Cattery let alone a hotel!

GUEST NAME: Trevor (our kid) McNally and family
COUNTRY of BIRTH: Liverpool, England
HOTEL:  Hotel California, Palma, Mallorca
DATE: 7.09.2012 – 21.09.2012

 Mr McNally, and his family, wife and seven children stayed with us recently. In all my years as a hotelier I have never witnessed such chaos caused by one family. I am writing this one week after their stay and have had to close the hotel to enable emergency redecoration of the premises. Taking the “all inclusive” concept to the maximum, the McNally family decided to attempt to drink the hotel dry of every alcoholic beverage held in our hotel. Unfortunately this included the children right down to seven year old “Kenny junior” who then on joining the child’s area removed the other guest children’s private property with menaces and at knifepoint!. The McNally family are a living and walking advert as to why contraceptional drugs should be induced at birth to some specimens of humankind!.

To counteract this seemingly need to voice and bemoan at the slightest thing that some guest seem obliged to do – usually with photographic evidence.,my wife’s hotel recently made a startling observation. It transpired that guest who had experienced a lack of respect or a problem checking in on arrival would in all likelihood hate everything about the hotel from that moment on.  Take for example a German guest that arrived last year. On arrival he was confronted with thirty other guest checking in and out at the same time. Forced to wait his turn, he unfortunately had to wait slightly longer than one would want to – 15 minutes to be precise! After 15 minutes his camera came out to take a photo of the queue in front of him, and from that moment on his Sony point and shoot never left his hand. The whole two weeks of this man’s Summer holiday, that had cost him and his wife over 2000 Euros, was spent on the hunt for any annoyance, hitch and disagreement he could discover.

On his return to his homeland he filed a court case against the hotel in a thirty – yes thirty, page document which included over one hundred indiscretions. From the minor “the “<” symbol of the volume button on the TV remote control had worn away to the major “there was a main sewer pipe running from the hotel beach into the sea where human excrement spewed into those swimming around”. All with photographic evidence. Of the hundred complaints he had raised only two were seen to be legitimate by the court. In fact, on inspection,the sewer that he had so carefully photographed transpired to be a water pipe that took spring water, good enough to consume, from the mountains behind the hotel into the sea and fully 700 meters away on a public beach!

The man had made one very big error though, in his wisdom he had decided to log every single complaint on a public travel website, similar to tripadvisor with all his photographic evidence. As I write this, the owners have counter filed a defamation and libel case against the man – and are expecting to win! Who can blame them and I for one hope they do.

How a German guest saw the hotel beach!

The reality!

The complaints do not always arrive by legal notice though. Sometimes they are instant and face to face with the hotel staff themselves. In the years my wife has worked in the hotel industry, she has been called every name that you could ever imagine. Along with being threatened with extreme violence. Then an occasion witnessed by my own eyes, had to stand patiently and unflinching as some vodka soaked Ukrainian woman screamed into her face “ I will make sure you are fired for this, you uneducated woman”.  This coming the day after my wife had had to witness the brains of a Russian woman splattered all over the tiled floor of the hotel swimming pool, who had decided that she would end her life by diving head first from five floors up! I better point out my wife is fully educated with a degree in tourism management and speaks four languages…and obviously has the patient of a saint!

Why do people make such an effort to seek out trouble and complain though?. I guess every person living on this planet wants to become stronger, more resourceful and if possible superior to others. People have varying ways of doing things, some people do it by making extraordinary achievements others do it by putting people down while a third group does it by complaining. Maybe in the hotel environment it is paradoxically a way to hide their own self worth. Witnessing others all around enjoying themselves, interacting with others fills them with a self pitying realization that they do not have the social and personal skills to simply enjoy . Their reaction is to fill that lack of self worth with their ability to complain. People can be divided into two main groups, the first are the ones who keep complaining and blaming the world for their mistakes while the second are the ones who take responsibility for anything that happens in their lives. Thankfully the majority of humankind are in the later!

So, if anyone reads this who is thinking of holidaying in the beautiful country of Turkey – or anywhere else comes to that. Before you show discontent at that waiter or waitress who has bought you the wrong drink in a “couldn’t care less” manor, keep this in your mind before showing your anger by complaining. The cost of your two weeks holiday is probably the equivalent of six months salary to that waiter or waitress! Before venting your anger at reception because your air condition is not cold enough, think that the poor receptionist maybe in the middle of an eighteen hour shift! Before, you decide to throw a complaint that room service has forgotten to remove your dirty towels, think that the woman maybe has been working for twelve hours and still has to find time to feed her children when she arrives home!

Just one last thing, for any German readers, do not take it to heart regarding the example of the German guest and his Sony. My wife happily tells me that the vast majority of German guest are polite, warm, friendly and respectful . They worse nationality for complaints is in fact closer to home and is.............well I will let you guess!

Happy Holidays


Monday, 15 April 2013

The bastardisation of Roald Dahl!

Teaching your wife to drive and explaining the football off-side rule are infamously two things a husband must never undertake. In return, the wife should at no point disclose the complexities of a “pre-wash” and why shoes are as much needed as water for female survival! As an expat , I am formed into a marriage with a woman from another language than my own English tongue. With this in mind, a few years ago I discovered another thing to throw on to the pile of “Thou shall not undertake” that of “thou shall not undertake any attempt to translate each other’s mother tongue!”.

Sat peacefully at home, very late one Friday evening, the phone rang, jolting us both from our slumber. Like everyone who receives a late night phone call the immediate contemplation is “who’s dead?”. I solemnly looked at my wife and slowly picked up the phone without taking my eyes from her! “ Is that Mike"?” a panicky accented voice enquired. Then on accepting my affirmative answer, explained that he was a friend of a friend who needed my help desperately. Apologizing for the lateness of the call, he explained how is daughter was studying English at some Turkish university and had been given a very important project to complete. The worriment being that she had procrastinated on the project and needed to complete it by the end of the weekend!. “what I need from you Mike bey is to translate a few pages from English into Turkish from a short story by a child author” he paused then quickly threw into the pot “…….by Sunday morning”. Now, even though the hour was late my mind was still fully operational. “I am so so sorry I am fully busy tomorrow and definitely will not…..” My sentence was cut “ I can pay you 200 Lira for your time” came the voice at the other end of the phone!. “…… here’s my email address, send it through to me” I greedily replied. With the promise of  it would be ready by Sunday morning, the deal was done. The man coming to my home at 7.30 to hand over lovely crisp Turkish bank notes in exchange for a few pages of translation from English to Turkish of a child story!

Closing the phone, I excitedly passed on the contents of the call to my wife, through the toilet door – where she had removed herself once she had satisfied herself that no one was dead!. As she came out she looked at me nervously and asked “are you really sure we can do this”?

Ok! Maybe I conveniently put it at the back of my mind that to be a fully qualified translator, you need at least a degree in the chosen translation language. Then further qualifications to furnish you with the skills to do the occupation admirably. With that all being well, maybe living a few years in the country of that tongue to build you up to a height that you are classified as a native speaker!. My wife spoke Turkish, I spoke English, so in my dimwitted brain we were well qualified for the task in hand!

We slept early as to wake early and do the job with as maximum speed possible thus leaving at least an afternoon free to relax ourselves and plan how to spend the 200 lira! My wife showered, as I excitedly opened up my e-mail, waiting for the correspondence with the translation.

It was there in bold at the top of the inbox SUBJECT: Roald Dahl. While waiting for the attachment to open in my word program, I was thinking Roald Dahl..must be Willy Wonka or that well know classic poem “IF”, mixing up my Dahls and Kiplings!. Then the word program opened emblazoned with the heading “ Mr Botibol”. Little did I know at that point that even years later the name Mr Botibal would still send shivers down my spine!. I glanced down to the bottom of the program page 1/20!. Twenty pages! – what happened to a few pages that I had been told!. This worked out at 10 lira a page! Even if we managed one page every thirty minutes it was going to take us all of ten hours without a break!. A deal is a deal though, so after breakfast we started on a literal journey that was only going to end in two ways – tears at best, divorce court at worst!
cam 456
Being that the original language was English, we devised that I would furnish my wife with the sentence and explain what Dahl was attempting to conjecture and she would put it down in her Turkish mother tongue on her laptop. We started on the heading:

English : Mr Botibol

Turkish: Botibol Bey

A fine start! - that wasn't improved on!

The first few lines of the first paragraph were laboriously worked over in a game of linguistic tennis. Each word converted into something in which the recipient could understand what Mr Dahl was attempting to express! Then came:

“Mr Botibol threading his way cautiously between the tables and the people, walking on his toes in such a meek and self-effacing manner and clutching his hat before him with both hands, he thought how wretched it must be for any man to look as conspicuous and as odd as this Botibol”

Such an easy, descriptive long sentence!. Except when you are attempting to translate it in simple enough English for your wife to convert!. Now, one should point out here, my good wife is a perfectionist!. “If a job is worth…” is a proverb that could quite easily be made for her!. The adjective use of “meek” “wretched” and “self effacing” and finally “conspicuous”; the form needed “to thread” in Turkish; The verb “to clutch”  - All had to be probably expressed according to my wife and with just this one sentence, she perused her dictionary both online and in her hand! It was long sentence in 20 minutes!

Finally two hours after starting the first page was finished!. TWO HOURS – I calculated, at this rate we would need 40 hours of no sleep, non stop work to terminate this. “Look you need to be quicker “ I barked at her. She gave me one of those glaring looks that also can be translated without words – things were not going well!.

We labored on, stumbling, fumbling and muddling over each carefully crafted line. Mr Botibol crawling into everyone of our senses! Teasing us with every one of his traitfull characters. Words such as “enthusias” “accustomed” “quota” “exasperated”  sent us into a torturous spiral of  linguistic purgatory. Slowly both ready to snap, both throwing spite and bile at each other “ Come on this is NOT difficult” coming from me “ Never ever ever promise to take translation work again” coming from her. We were in a whirlpool of adjectives, correct verbal use, adverbs anything that Roald Dahl could throw at us.

The self inflicting torture continued hour after painful hour! “ I want to go to the toilet” my wife said pitifully after seven hours in. “NO you don’t have time we are only on page nine”!. She ignored me of course!. She took too long! “ Bloody Hell – hurry up will you, we are never going to finish for Christ sake” I hollered through the keyhole! She came out, keeping her cool through reddish cheeks, biting her bottom lip. “Ok Next sentence” she said calmly in the way a woman replies “Nothing” when asked “what is wrong”…She was biding her time I knew!

I glanced down at the next line which gunned out of my clenched lips..

“The trace of a smile, weak and infinitely sad, flickered around the corners of his mouth.”

“How can you trace a smile and mouths do not have corners?” she looked at me blankly!. She was correct of course! Unfortunately, it was the sentence that broke the camel’s glossary!. “ Of course it can, bloody know what trace is don’t you?. CORNER – the edge of the mouth, you know what a bloody corner is don’t you? YOU know what a mouth is don’t you?” I paused shocked at my outburst but continued anyway “ Are you dumb or something"?”…

I looked away, not baring to look at her, in full knowledge that I had not so much gone too far but had reached the edge and had fallen head first down it. I squeezed my hand around my mouth and shot a sideways glance at her. She sat, closed eyed, still. “ I am so sorry” I groveled. She opened her watery green eyes, fixed them on me, then stood up. Standing by the door she calmly articulated “ No problem, if that is what you think – I am dumb, so then you are intelligent enough to do it yourself, I am going to bed, you are on your own". The door slammed behind her!. I sat angered with myself for accepting this impossible work, angered at Roald bloody Dahl for writing this, angered at Mr bloody Botibol for this torture and of course angered at myself for the first time in our marriage distressing my wonderful wife!. The living room door opened again, ok my chance to fully apologies for my pathetic outburst. “ Askim..look I am so….” my words were finished as a pillow and blanket hit me squarely on the face!. I was spending the night with Mr Botibol!

Silently I sat. not even looking at my PC, I would explain to the gentleman tomorrow how sorry I was, we tried but failed miserably to translate it. Yes, I would admit failure but 200 lira was a miniscule price to be paid for the damage I had caused this day. The remaining ten pages would have to be handed back untouched, there was nothing more I could do. Unfurling the blanket and curling up into it, I lay and thought of the pain I had caused my wife and myself on this burdening project based on my greed for 200 lira. Even though not a religious man, I would pray on the bible to take this day back and be curled up in my marital bed with my spouse. “BIBLE” – the word shot back into my brain again!

The Bible could just be my saviour I thought!. Maybe closer to the truth was Martin Luthur, the 16th Century German Monk, who had in all his wisdom decided to translate the Bible from it’s original Latin text into his own Germanic mother tongue!. The controversy in doing so was that good old Martin, cut text out. altered it, threw away some chapters until it was fully to his liking and those all around. I would be Martin Luthor and Mr Botibol was about to become my Latin Bible!

With that, I attacked the final ten pages with a vigor. The work of one of the world’s greatest authors was customized, crucified,  reorganized and bastardised. Cutting it down into easy, mouthful chunks that myself and my limited Turkish could transform into workable pieces, and the text I struggled with then Google translator would become the tool of choice!  Sentences such as :

“Later, when he was resting in his chair in the other room, he was still enjoying it. He closed his eyes because he didn't want anything to break the spell”


“O yorgun ve oturdu” (he was tired so sat down)”

Great swaths of text lavishly scripted from Roald Dahl’s pen were swept away never to be enjoyed by the student that this translation would end up with.

Out with..

She had lived long enough in the city to discover that old men, if they
are dirty old men, do not bother about trying to pick up a girl as unattractive as herself. Only twice in her life had she been accosted in public and each time the man had been drunk. But this one wasn't drunk. He was nervous and he was peculiar-looking, but he wasn't drunk. Come to think of it, it was she who had started the conversation in the first place. "It would be lovely," she said. "It really would. When could I come?"

and in with

“bir kızla tanıştım ve onunla birlikte eve gitti” (He met a girl an she went home with him”

And so it continued through the night, cutting and pasting and crafting a story in a language that I could barely managed to ask “where is the toilet” in!

The semi-distant noise of the Mosque calling out for morning prayer told me that daybreak had come and with it just one more page to transform !. The page with the final crescendo. In this crescendo, the ilk some (well to me) Mr Botibol conducts an imaginary orchestra whilst playing Chopin on an old gramophone player. Accompanying him is a classical pianist who he has fallen in love with! The story builds up and up in tune with the music he is conducting in his mind. All into some type of pseudo sexual climatic ending! Beautifully scripted and breathtakingly exciting!. With each thrash of a drum and each vibration of a violin string the story and feeling inside Mr Botibol builds and builds! My scripted ending was not so intoxicating

“O bazı müzik ile oynanan ve kadın onu izledim çok heyecan vericiydi” ( He played with some music and was so exciting as the woman watched him)

It was over – I cared not one jot that the original 20 pages had been edited down to 14!. It was 7.00am I didn’t care how many pages this had taken. It had taken twenty one long, arduous, painful and destroying hours! I hurriedly printed it out. As the whirling of the printer spewed out the garbage of my translation I slowly opened the bedroom door. The woman I had abused and mistreated lay as always on her side with her arms hanging over the side of the bed. The pains of guilt returned and the realization that nothing I could do or say could take away my shameless words that had bialy exited from my mouth to this wonderful woman who slept before me.

In typical Turkish fashion the man arrived fifteen minutes later than his 7.30! Opening the door, he  expressed great thanks and was so full of apologies and sympathy for making us work so hard! I embarrassingly smiled as we swapped envelopes. Me receiving a small white one with 200 lira and himself a large brown one with probably the worst investment he had ever made, inside! I placed the white envelope by the side of the television placing an ornament over it to hide the disgrace it mirrored to me!

The day was spent without me sleeping, the coldness of the Antalya winter in no competition at the coldness between me and my wife, an iceness that would last days. Luckily though the ice was melted overtime with the warmth of our marriage. We slowly returned to normal and Mr Botibol was never mentioned again. Undisturbed the envelope stayed under the ornament for months. Like an unwanted smell it hung in the room, neither of us wanting to have any dealings with it. It vanished one day taken obviously by my wife – I have never inquired from her what she spent it on and never wish to know!

Six long years later I worried about that poor student who had to endure that disgraceful work of mine, attentively I enquired from a friend at what had happened to her. Thankfully, she is now an English teacher in Istanbul. The pains of guilt of my behavior that day to my wife still lingers and to see or make my wife sad in anyway now is thankfully beyond my capabilities. If I ever feel the steam of anger building all I have to do think of the bastardisation of Roald Dahl!

Roald Dahl enjoys a comforting cigarette whilst contemplating the  hideous torture that his creation  Mr Botibol  will  inflict on me!

Thursday, 11 April 2013

P.S I Love you!


FAO: The UK Passport (renewal) Office LIVERPOOL!

My dear friends,

Thank you for another day of complete and utter wastage of my valuable time in talking to you to discover what is the current situation with the renewal of my UK passport. One month in, countless conversations and e-mails have been swapped but we still do not seem to be able to get to a point where you kindly dispatch the entitled passport to little old me.

However, I think I have discovered the problem! It’s either that I have lived outside of the UK now for eleven years and picked up a slight Turkish twang to my voice or I have kept my “awreet me ‘andsome” Somerset yokelisms and you can’t quite grasp what I am saying with your Scouse ears. So, to help you I will write it in a language you may understand using reference points from your “Fab Four”  - John, Paul George and the little troll looking one at the back! So,

Hey Jude” or “Michelle” or shall I just say “Woman” . Let me explain my situation I just want a “ticket to ride” and “Get back to where I once belong”. I am not looking to start a “Revoluton” and not wanting to go “Back in the U.S.S.R”. I am not even a “Day Tripper” and don’t even want to take a “Ferry across the Mersey”… all I want to do is go home because “with a little help from my friends” I am attending a school reunion!

You see “when I was young, so much younger than today” I sent my passport away to you to be renewed. Now it seems we are on a “Long winding road” of phone calls and e-mails ! I apologies but that I had to “shout” to you today but as you have already popped down to “Penny Lane” and extracted 200 pounds from my bank account. I felt in “Misery” Fine you are right up in Scouse land “money can"t but you love”, can’t buy me a bloody passport either it seems!. So “please please me” and dispatch my passport or will I have to wait “when I am sixty four”! At the moment it feels this little saga has been going on “eight days a week”!

Bloody hell,Talk about “You’ll never walk alone” I am like that dodgy Ex-wife or your Sir Paul McCartney – i.e, Not a leg to stand on! Talking of wife's, “do you want to know a secret?” , well my wife is so full of “misery” over it “she’s leaving home” ! “Yesterday” I had to shout out the window “baby come back”! as “saw her standing there”! “All you need is love” huh? A renewed UK Passport wouldn’t go a friggin miss either!

So, “Help” me if you can I am feeling down!. “It’s all too much” just give me my bloody passport and “I’ll be on my way” if you don’t then “I’ll be back” . In the meanwhile I will just say every morning “Please Mr Postman” is there anything from the UK Passport office today”  - “That will be the day”!

So, “Let it be” and let’s “come together” and  “give peace a chance

all my loving

Michael West

P.S I love you

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

I name this family..

A few years ago, in a fit of boredom, I decided to trace my family ancestry. Now, a task that I was sure was going to take me weeks, months, years even. Wanting to do the job and my bloodline justice, I set about downloading all the tools one would need for such a formidable task. Family tree maker, Genealogical programs  etc.  All of one day was spent finding the relevant government offices that I would need to contact, then setting up an excel file to input all the data. Family documents that I could procure at my parents were recovered and stored in a file that I bought specially for the task, even scanning them all into a photo dossier onto my well worn laptop. After a week of studious preparation I was ready to begin the project to end all projects.  First point of contact was my rarely spoken to cousin. “ Oh I did all that last year” she said smugly! I will email you it all! which she duly did!..Job completed in ten minutes!

Nothing much to report on my ancestry. It seems that the vast majority knew that some future ancestor would want to trace them all. So conveniently and kindly all were married, lived and died in the same parish in rural Somerset. All mostly with the “occupation listed as “farmer” with the odd “brick maker” interspersed between them. The only true touching moment was finding a photo on the British War Graves website of a Great Uncle who had died in the Somme at the time of the Great War.

After she had came home from her work, I recalled all this to my wife, who for those that do not know is Turkish. Her response startled me “ Who gave you the surname West?”. Of course I had no idea. “ I guess it is because we are from the West of England” was my only explanation. “Yes – but someone somewhere must have given your family this name”.  She was right of course, alas that information was way beyond the vast amount of genealogical web sites online!. Over dinner we continued the discussion and she informed me that her own family surname “Demir” had been chosen by her Great-grandfather way back in 1934!

It seems incredulous in this mostly modern Turkey that I reside in, that less than eighty years before, the good citizens of Turkey continued their daily existence with no recognizable family name whatsoever.  In Ottoman times, everyone in Turkey was identified by titles, nicknames, birthplace, and parentage. The male of the population were mostly known as “the son of (Father’s name). My own wife’s Grandfather was known as “Şeker Yasin” (Sweet Yasin) solely for his contant eating of a sweet produced in his beautiful village of Catalzeytin situated in the Black sea region of Northern Turkey.

It is worth remembering though, Turkey's population at this time was only a fraction of what it is now. There were far fewer people, and the desire and possibility for  travel was far less. Thus making it a lot easier to identify them by context: "Mehmet the Shepherd from Trabzon," Ahmet the Butcher from Zeytinkoy," "One-legged Ali from…," etc. Everybody was a person, not a name in a ledger. Doesn’t seem quite so bad when you consider these days when every possible official office has a record of you!

Then along came Mustafa Kemal the first president of the Turkish Republic, who in 1934, and in all his wisdom decided that all the families must adopt a Western style surname that would identify them for generations to come. Think about that for a second!. Imagine that your family have to come to an agreement on a name that will identify you and your future offspring until the end of time. Me and my good wife couldn’t even agree on what to call a goldfish that we were recently given. So to me, the fish was called Beckham and to her he was called Altintop! Thankfully the poor fish didn’t have time to show signs of schizophrenic  confusion. In true goldfish fashion he died a week later!

The task given to the Turks, must go down as one of the greatest social historic experiences in recent years anywhere in the world. One can only imagine with wonder at the conversations around Turkish dinner tables as they discussed what chosen name to call themselves. The rules of which name you could choose though were not so clear cut. Surnames that bore any relation to foreign cultures, nations, tribes, and religions were strongly forbidden. Thus meaning some ethnic families such as Greeks and Armenians, who had surnames already that had lasted them for generations were obliged to change them forthwith!   If the new law was designed to exclude the multiplication of names, it can also be argued the law was also fostered to strengthen the sense of “Turkishness” amongst the populous.

Duly charged with the task in hand, the Turks,  furnished themselves with every conceivable name possible. Some chose the simple and obvious, some chose the grand and prestigious, some chose the outrageous and some chose the bizarre. Some didn’t even bother choosing! Attending the naming office when asked “Ok what do you name your family?” – some replied back in the most simplist of ways possible “mmm..I don’t really know …Birşey” (something)! So the name “something” was duly given! There were those that maybe in a fit of discontent at this new law registered their new name as “Adıvar” (have a name (already) )  Some didn’t even have to choose. Mustafa Kemal was adorned with the name, that was to make him known throughout the World, Ataturk – Father of the Turks.

There is one area of thought that didn’t cross Ataturk’s mind, one would imagine. That  is how the names left a social and historical stamp of that time for future historians .  The jobs for example that some chose as surnames. “Demercı” (Blacksmith), çoban (shepherd) all possible occupations at the time are to be found . The recent years prior to 1934 had seen a seemingly never ending situation of conflict within the borders of the now Turkish Republic. Mirroring this, names such as Savaş” (war) came into bearing. Chosen probably by men who had had the inhuman experience branded into their psyche. The surname “conk”is replicated often – after Conk Tepe (Conk Hill) scene of some of the bloodiest battles during the Gallipoli (Canakkele)  conflict. Added to this is also some proudly used “Conker” – the end suffix “er” representing a soldier from Conk Hill. ..The list is truly endless!

There were some that used their surname as an object of covert snobbery. The Turkish writer and humourist Aziz Nesin, who at the age of twenty one personally experienced the Surname law noted in later years:

“when the surname law was passed which directed every Turk to select a last name, people's secret feelings of inferiority surfaced: Some of the world's stingiest became known as "Eliachik" (Openhanded), the greatest cowards named themselves "Yurekli" (Stoutheart), and many of the laziest took the name ''Chalishkan" (Industrious ) . One of our teachers chose the surname of "Cheviker" (Dextrous) when he could barely sign his name to a letter.”

Then of course there are simply the beautiful. One could take a lifetime and never finish the list of Turkish names that when translated are simply warm and charming. If I peruse my Facebook friends list for example, I find -  “Adıgüzel” (beautiful Island), Yilmaz (Undaunted), Guven (Trust), Mutlu (Happy),  Göloğlu (son of the lake), Erdem (Virtue), Yildirim (lightening), Uğurlu (Fortunate), etc etc !.

Turkish names really do come into their own beautiful self when combined with their literal first names. Some time ago , I was fortunate to have a wonderful student. Wonderful as a student and also wonderful purely for her name alone; Melek Gökçen. Beautiful as it is in Turkish, however when you understand that her first name Melek translates as “Angel” and her surname as “of the skies” put them together and…..? Truly delightful I think you will agree!. For me, simply to be able to translate Turkish names is reason enough to go running to the nearest Turkish class.

Try this if your Turkish is not up to scratch. When travelling around, look up!. There before you on the sides and balconies of small Turkish business such as lawyers and dentist you will see the names of the occupants displayed. Take a dictionary and check the meaning of the occupants name in English – it will keep you amused and bewitched for hours believe me!

However, back to where I started  - my own English ancestors. Six years ago, I applied to take Turkish citizenship. Completing one of the many stages and interviews, some would say interrogations, I was offered the opportunity to change my name to one more in tune with my new Turkish identity. I refused!. I refused simply in a sense of pride and as to hold dear the name some long lost ancestor in the dawn of time had bestowed on us. Looking back, I regret my proud decision so very much. Now that I understand the Turkish language more then I did in those days, I realize that I passed away a great chance to avail myself with such a meaningful and more fitting name that corresponds with my character or more accurately, the way I see my character!. If given the time over again, I would have bequeathed  the name upon myself “ Multu çiftçioğlu”. I will allow your good selves to translate!

The good people at the Turkish Citizenship Department though seemed to have ideas of their own when it came to keeping my name! A few months later a big brown official letter arrived proudly acknowledging that I had been accepted into the Brotherhood of Turks and my Kimlik (ID card), that all Turks must have on their persons at all time, was awaiting for me to take. Proudly I hurried along to the Citizenships office to take my kimlik and with sweaty impatient hands received it from the officiating man behind the iron grill. My wife kissed me happily with as I perused my ID. Then the word struck me “VEST”!…Michael VEST!. The fools, after all the forms I had carefully filled out, after all the interviews I had undertaken under duress, they had managed to misspell my own surname!

Immediately I returned to the office and the stern man behind the grill that I had left just minutes ago. “ My name – look you have it wrong, it’s WEST not VEST”. Smilingly he replied that in the absence of the letter “W” in the Turkish alphabet that any name with that letter within it is replaced with a “V”!.. I was stuck with it!

So, now I sit and ponder! Maybe, just maybe a few hundred years from now some long distant relative will sit down and undertake the task that I did in ten minutes. That of tracing his family roots!. I can see it now, filled with stories of how their family name VEST came from a long distant Englishman who came to the shores of Turkey many moons ago. “What does VEST mean though” he or she will wonder in Turkish as they grab their dictionary or whatever they will be using in those distant times. “V – very – vestible – vessel, agh here it is VEST” then they look and read

“ UK (US undershirt) a type of underwear, often with no sleeves, that covers the upper part of the body, worn for extra warmth:”

They then turn triumphantly to all their future Vest relations. “I have discovered that our great ancestor was an English immigrant, named after a an undergarment worn by men of that time” he or she will say proudly, and one likes to think with a tear in their eye in remembrance of little old me . Then they will finish “ No doubt he was not that intelligent to have been making underwear, probably poor, maybe little or no education in fact nobody of any real interest at all” !

Such a sobering thought!