It’s That Pelican Time Of Year

My mobile rang yesterday and when I looked at the caller display, my heart sank.

It was Çagri.

Don’t get me wrong; he’s a lovely guy. He’s always pleasant and he’s certainly efficient in what he does. But, because he’s an insurance broker, I know when his name appears on my phone it’s going to cost me money.

It’s not Çagri’s fault that all the policies we have are due for renewal in January; it just seems to have happened that way. It’s also not his fault that lots of other bills always need paying at the same time as well.

But, just the same, when Çagri calls – although I always try to be as bright and cheerful as he is – inside, I can’t help getting that sinking feeling and an urge to hide my wallet.

When you first arrive in a new country, it doesn’t really occur that you’ll be opening bank accounts, setting up direct debits and buying new insurance policies all at roughly the same time. It’s just stuff that needs to be done.

So neither of us really gave any thought to the idea that, once we’d made a start, annual bills would fall at around the same time every year and – bracketed by the kids’ birthdays as well as Christmas – our bank account was always going to take a hammering in January.

Turkey’s economic situation hasn’t helped this year either. With inflation running at over 20% and the pound now worth almost 7tl rather than the 3.43tl it was when we arrived, insurance premiums have gone through the roof.

The result? We’ll probably be having fewer of life’s little luxuries and shopping at the markets where, thank God, fruit and veg and many of the basic requirements of life are still delightfully cheap.

But, if you’re planning on making 2019 the year you make a fresh start somewhere sunny (and possibly as far away from Brexit as possible) take my advice and try not to buy everything at once.

Take your time, plan a little and stagger any significant purchases. If not, to borrow a phrase from Blackadder, there will come a time of year when you find yourself feeling a little like a pelican; no matter which way you look, you’re still facing an enormous bill.

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Fruit and veg from the markets … Still cheap enough to help keep us cheerful in a punishing month for the bank account.

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It’s Turkey for Christmas

Anyone who knows me knows I’m not that big on the whole Christmas thing. God knows I’m not religious – see what I did there? – but it’s not because of that.

Turkey for Christmas

Black Jack is always excited about Christmas!

When we lived in the UK, I found the rampant commercialism depressing; in-yer-face adverts from the moment the kids went back to school urging us to buy this, buy that, and borrow money if we couldn’t afford it.

Then there was the day itself. I loved getting up with the kids, their excitement when they saw Santa had been. Those lazy couple of hours as they opened stockings and we chilled out together were precious every year.

But after that, it was quite stressful. I spent most of the day in the kitchen and running around after various relatives, when all I really wanted to do was work my way through a family-sized box of Celebrations in front of Doctor Who and the Strictly Come Dancing special.

Now we’re in Turkey – a country that doesn’t really ‘do’ Christmas as most of the population is Muslim – and I feel differently.

We can choose to partake in whatever celebrations we like without obligation – or not. There are carol services and festive get-togethers should we feel the need for them. (I rarely do.) One Christmas Day, we went to Ölüdeniz beach and got sunburned watching the paragliders floating down to earth from Babadağ. Another, we did a 12km walk around Fethiye peninsular before enjoying lunch with some dear friends. It’s very liberating.

We’re untouched by the endless Christmas advertising whipping us up in a frenzy, convincing us to spend money we don’t have on tat we don’t need.

We can put up our understated tree and few carefully chosen decorations and enjoy them without feeling like we should have done more. Nobody is judging us.

We’re untouched by the endless Christmas advertising whipping us up in a frenzy, convincing us to spend money we don’t have on tat we don’t need. There’s no need to stock the cupboards with enough food to feed the whole village for a week just because the shops shut for a day and we might run out of milk.

All these things have helped me rediscover the joy of Christmas. It’s not about ‘stuff’. It’s about having time with my family. It’s having a few days where I’m not governed by deadlines, projects or the need to make a living. If I want to slob in my pyjamas and eat cheese-on-toast all day, I can. If I feel like taking the dog for a tramp in the woods, that’s fine too. (The tramp doesn’t like it much, though…. The old ones are the best, eh?)

Christmas is also the one time of year when I let my guard down and open some of the emotional boxes I’ve kept so carefully sealed.

That’s part of Christmas too. Allowing myself to acknowledge the pain and grief I still carry.

Last week, the stonemasons sent us a photograph of the headstone for my grandmother’s grave. It’s been nearly three years since she died – things were delayed for various reasons – but I still miss my Nonna terribly. She was the one constant female presence in my life, from my birth until her death. She wasn’t ‘there’ in her later years, when dementia set in. I mourned then, and I mourned again when she left me physically.

That photograph ripped off the sticking plaster and showed the wound beneath was still raw and unhealed. Usually, I’d fight to cover it quickly again – but not at this time of year. I wept for my Nonna and then I wept for my mother, who died 36 years ago. She would have had her 66th birthday earlier this month. I cried for all that both she and I missed, for the loss of what we should have had. I still rage at whatever fate decided she should be taken away so soon.

And that’s part of Christmas too. Remembering, allowing myself to acknowledge the pain and grief I still carry – and always will – without guilt. Self-indulgence. Not with chocolate, wine or expensive gifts, but with emotions.

I love turkey for Christmas. In more ways than one.

 

RP

A Fowl Tale with a Happy Ending

“Sad Girl’s in trouble,” observed Steve as I came into the kitchen one morning.

I joined him at the window to see our neighbour, Hüseyin, walking down the road towards one of the nearby restaurants.

Trotting beside him, at the end of a length of string, was a chunky, honey-coloured dog – a bit like a Labrador but with more fur and shorter legs. Sad Girl, as we’d christened her, had appeared a few weeks earlier – a victim of the most recent round-up and redistribution of street animals by the local belediye, or council. (Don’t get me started. The general treatment of cats and dogs here is one of the few things I actively dislike about life in Turkey.)

She had a mournful face – hence the name – and seemed a bit bewildered, but settled quickly. With food forthcoming from two restaurants at one end of the road and a family from Istanbul near the other, she certainly wasn’t going hungry – as her bulky frame showed. She had places to shelter from the rain, enjoyed meeting people who walked by, and – although clearly not a young dog – had a playful nature and plenty of energy. The only thing lacking was love and attention, so she was welcomed into our garden whenever she cared to come. She never stayed long – lots of pats, a tummy rub and a bit of fuss, and she was off again.

It seemed, though, that things might be about to change.

“She was in the field over the road, digging,” explained Steve. “Hüseyin and his wife came along and watched for a bit, then Hüseyin went over and pulled a dead chicken out of the hole in the ground.”

Oh dear. But there was more…

“Then he walked to a patch of dug-up ground on the other side of the tree and pulled out another one. I think he’s taking her down to the restaurants because he thinks one of them has adopted her.”

An hour later, I looked out of the window to see Sad Girl trotting back up the road towards us. The string hung loosely from her neck….and in her mouth she carried another dead chicken.

It might sound amusing, but we were worried for her. In a village like ours, livestock is a precious commodity. If our dog killed a neighbour’s chicken, we’d be expected to pay them 80 lira (around £14.50 at time of writing) in recompense. We know a couple who opened the door one night to be confronted by a Jandarma officer and an angry farmer demanding 1,200 lira (around £218) for a goat that went missing after one of their dogs chased his flock.

We didn’t see Sad Girl the next day, or for the few days after that. It seemed she’d been killing chickens on a regular basis – not for food, just for the fun of it – and people had had enough.

We feared she’d been quietly got rid of and that would be the end of it. But then, driving along the road one evening, Steve spotted her – on a lead, accompanying a member of the Istanbul family as she fed a local pod of street cats, a daily task.

Sad Girl, it seems, has found a permanent home. She’s one of the luckier street animals…and the village chickens can breathe a cluck of relief.

 

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“It’s ok, we’re safe to walk the streets again. Tell the rest of the girls.”

 

Eyes Wide Shut

Isn’t it funny how quickly we take things for granted?

One of the many beautiful views we enjoy on a regular basis.

I know how lucky I am to live in such a beautiful part of the world, but even in the short three years we’ve been here, I don’t always appreciate it on a daily basis.

Last night, driving out of the village to meet a friend for dinner – a rare occurrence; people think our lives are one big holiday but they really aren’t – I was struck afresh by the sheer beauty of my surroundings. Nothing in particular – simply that the sky was so blue and the woods still so green; Babadağ’s imposing presence loomed in front of us while the sun cast a soft, glowing light over the hills as it began its evening descent.

Due to the fierce summer heat, we’re currently walking Dill the Dog at the extreme ends of the day – around 6.30am and 8pm – and I realised I don’t always make the most of it. With the local goat population seemingly on hiatus during the hottest weeks, you feel like you’re the only person in the world as you walk in the woods sometimes – especially on the early shift. (I’m not a morning person and when it’s my turn I mutter and groan when that alarm goes off – but it’s a special time of day once you’re up and about.)

One of the storks – I disturbed it drinking from a pond.

We’ve been fortunate in recent weeks to observe porcupine scuttling across the path, a badger that’s set up home in the dried-out river bed, wild boar snuffling among the trees, a pair of eagles, a young fox, the village storks who have come back to nest for another season…. Sitting quietly and watching them go about their lives is a privilege.

Yet I know on occasion, when I’ve returned home and Steve’s asked the question we always put to each other – “Did you see anything?” – I’ve responded along the lines of: “Only the eagles.” Only? Since when did seeing a pair of eagles start out of a nearby tree and soar overhead become so commonplace? Ridiculous to think that I can get more excited about seeing a tortoise – as commonplace here as hedgehogs are in the UK – bimbling along the track ahead of me.

So, my summer resolution is to remind myself to take more notice of my surroundings. To look at and appreciate the things I see every day which I had already stopped noticing. I’m fortunate enough to live a life many would love – I should relish it every single moment.

Looking down across Fethiye from one of the mountain tracks.

The sun rising through trees in the local forest.

 

 

 

Silver Service

When we were first married, our silver wedding anniversary seemed a very long way into the future. And if anyone had told me we’d be living in Turkey by then, I’d have laughed in their faces.

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Our wedding day, 1992-style.

 

Yet fast forward 25 years and here we were, feeling like the big day was only yesterday. Plans for a big party or vow renewals had gone out of the window – after all, who would we be doing it for? Life’s had its ups and downs, naturally, but we’re still happy together, secure in our feelings, without feeling the need for any public affirmation.

Friends, though, said we really should mark the occasion in some way. They kindly agreed to look after the furry members of the household, and we headed off on a minibus – along with 11 other travellers and our wonderful guide, Yalçın – for a whistle-stop two-day tour of Ephesus and Pamukkale. Both were stunning, and I especially fell in love with the hot springs and terraces of Pamukkale. Some places speak to your soul, and this was one of them.

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On the terraces at Pamukkale.

Lovely Yavuz, our travel agent, had told the hotel we were celebrating and they’d made a real effort – flowers and wine in the room, rose petals on the bed spelling out ‘Seni seviyorum’ (‘I love you’), towels twisted into intricate swan shapes. We truly appreciated it, but as always it was the less-than-perfect details that made our trip. (We have form here. Our mini-break to Oxford wouldn’t have been nearly as memorable without the hotel that had corridors too narrow to walk down facing forwards, reeked of cabbage, and had an en-suite shower that was in the wardrobe.)

As it was still early season, our party were the only guests and staffing levels were low. When it came to bar, kitchen and restaurant duties, one guy was covering them all – and with very bad grace. (He occasionally shouted at a sulky-looking girl at a nearby table, exhorting her to help, but she merely sipped a glass of water, looked disinterested and stayed put.)

The Turkish answer to Basil Fawlty was obviously irritated at the disruption these British visitors brought to his otherwise peaceful existence, and banged down plates with bad grace. The food looked ok – a butterflied chicken breast coated in spices served with chips, rice and vegetables – but it was cold. We realised all the meals had been plated up for the start of service at 7.15pm.

As we ate, we spotted a cat slinking in through the door and under a table, from where emanated a low mewling. “There’s a litter of kittens under there,” said Steve. “She’s come back to feed them.” (I was glad the hotel was being kind to them, of course, but it’s not what you’d usually expect to find in a restaurant.)

Afterwards we retired to the covered but open bar area to watch a pretty spectacular thunderstorm – but didn’t stay long. The rain dripped steadily through leaks in the canopy, and Basil had to dash around moving furniture and putting out buckets to catch the puddles.

For some, such incidents are cause for complaint or mar an otherwise enjoyable trip. For us, it’s added entertainment value. Being able to laugh together is a mainstay of our marriage – along with sarcasm and an irresistible urge to take the mickey out of each other at every opportunity.

It might not have been the grandest or most lavish way to celebrate 25 years of marriage, but it was special, memorable and very ‘us’. Next milestone? We’re going for gold.

 

 

Learning Our Place

 

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Maps.

Something you don’t find many of in Turkey and, when you remember the country was invaded as recently as 100 years ago, I suppose it’s easy to understand why. When your homeland borders seven other nations – and when some of them are notoriously unstable – it probably makes sense not to make it too easy for any foreign force to find its way from A to B.

However, when you’re getting to know your patch and having to make do without names for many streets, roads or even landmarks, it does mean you pretty much have a free hand to make them up yourself.

As an example, there’s a spectacular waterfall near Kabak which the daily boats trips along the Turquoise Coast sometimes visit in the summer. After taking some pictures of visitors showering in the icy water I asked friend, neighbour and boat captain Tommy where we were…

“”The Waterfall.” he replied.

“Yes; I know that. But what’s this place called?”

“I just told you … The Waterfall,” he said, looking a little perplexed.

It seemed a little laconic for such a beautiful place which I felt deserved something more poetic so, subsequently, when I posted the images on Facebook, I called it “The Secret Waterfall”.

I have no idea if it was as a direct result or if it was just a coincidence but, soon, the tourism groups on Facebook seemed to be awash with requests for more information about the location of “The Secret Waterfall”. Boat captains were being urged to head for it and it seemed – even if I wasn’t the first to use it – the name had certainly stuck.

But not all locations we’ve come up with names for are quite so … romantic. Others now in common use around our house – largely used to describe locations on our regular dog walk routes – include Dead Sheep Gorge (because there was one); Wild Boar View (because there was one – in fact, a family of five); Biscuit Rock (as it’s where the dogs used to stop for a break and a treat) Hot Hill (because, in summer, it really is when you have to climb it) Runaround Dog (as the dog at this house invariably runs around barking when you pass by) Flagpole Farm (yep, you guessed it) and finally Pooh Corner (I’ll leave that one to your imagination).

I suppose, as a result, it’s now much easier to understand how far-flung places in America’s Wild West or the Australian Outback got their outrageous names. Admittedly, Runaround Dog doesn’t really match Boing Boing or Lick Skillet for imagination but we really only invented our location names so we could tell each other where we were when we saw an eagle, found a porcupine quill or encountered something unpleasant someone else had left behind.

But, to our slight embarrassment, we’ve noticed some of our friends have started to use them too. Albeit unwittingly, it seems we may be responsible for parts of the picturesque and historic Kaya Valley becoming known by some less-than-salubrious identities, at least among some of the English residents.

So if you ever become a nation’s leader remember this: although a lack of maps and street names may make life a little harder for an invader, it does leave your homeland exposed to a different risk. You may remain a free nation and be able to determine your own destiny – but you may also end up with a Rubbish Road (because it’s where people seem to tip stuff they don’t want), an Outraged Olive (a tree which reminded one of us of Harry Potter’s Whomping Willow) or a Pooh Corner which has nothing whatsoever to do with cute bears.

You have been warned …

Another Story Of Mice And Men

We didn’t really think that much about the scuffling from behind the sofa to start with. A rare night with decent broadband meant we’d enjoyed about an hour of Strictly and were halfway down a bottle of wine so we were quite relaxed about what we thought was Rubbish Cat’s latest mad outburst of energy. He’s usually pretty laid back, but every now and again he likes to do a wall of death around the living room, either pursuing or being pursued by some imagined feline adversary.

But, if we’d know what the noise was actually all about, it might’ve been a bit different… As Bec tidied the room prior to our retirement for the night, she lifted a bean bag.

“Er… Steve?”

“Mmmm?”

“There’s a bloody great rat over here…”

“What?!”

It turns out the scuffling was actually Rubbish Cat’s entertainment for the evening. He’d brought a rodent friend in to play. Safe to say it didn’t survive, which is probably just as well. The thought of a colony of ratty guests setting up home inside the stuffing of the sofa or in the dark recesses under the sideboard wasn’t a particularly pleasant one. Indeed, it was enough to prompt me to resolve to check the outhouses for evidence of further habitation the next day…

So, after the morning routine of dog walk and breakfast, I donned some gloves and ventured into the dusty, cobwebbed shed which houses the intricate system of switches and pumps which control our water works. It’s been home to a rat before so it seemed a good place to start (https://theparsleysabroad.wordpress.com/2014/09/02/rats-my-secrets-out/).

Opening the door, some immediate scuttling suggested my suspicions were not unfounded and, sure enough, as I switched the light on, a small, sleek body darted into a dim recess where a shelf meets a cupboard. While gingerly prising the cupboard door open, some faint squeaking suggested there was probably more than one culprit too – but I was entirely unprepared for what happened as I lifted a sack of old fertiliser off the shelf.

I can only describe it as an explosion of mice. They showered onto the floor at my feet, immediately scattering in all directions – out towards the door, behind the water pumps, along shelves and through gaps where the tiled roof meets stone wall. I opened another door and this time a full-grown rat plopped onto the floor, looked a bit startled and then made a break for a gap behind a cupboard unit. Another door, another couple of rats…

The sheer numbers involved reminded me a bit of the last installment of The Hobbit when, just as the good guys think they’re winning, it turns out a whole new army of orcs has been laying low behind a hill waiting for the command to strike.

Slightly overwhelmed I retreated to the house…

“Where’s the cat?” I asked Bec.

“Dunno; he was hanging around a few minutes ago but I’m not sure where he’s gone.”

“Bloody typical. Just when I really need him, he buggers off.”

Forced to fight this battle on my own, I cleared everything I could shift out of the shed, armed myself with the garden hose and let rip with a powerful jet of water, hoping – somewhat like Frodo and his friends in later episodes of Lord of The Rings – a good flooding would drive the enemy from my lands.

So far it seems to have worked. I’ve left the shed door and cupboards open so they don’t make such comfy, dry and safe accommodation for guests with long tails and nibbly teeth. After recounting my battle to Bec, I even earned a vague: “Well done, dear.”

As For Rubbish Cat, I’m not sure how he feels. He does now sometimes sit at the door of the shed peering in – but I’m not sure if the look on his face is part of the atavistic hunting urge or disappointment that I seem to have removed his source of entertainment…

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Rubbish Cat and that look I now get after removing his source of entertainment