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.

Wedding

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.

Pamukkale

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

 

here-be-dragons

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…

img_5597

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

A Dog’s Life

We’ve not really posted much for a while, and there’s been a good reason. Something tragic happened in our little family and it’s taken time to come to terms with it.

We didn’t want to blurt it out but neither did we want to ignore it, and writing about other events in our lives just didn’t seem important.

Now, as we enter a new chapter, it feels like the right time to explain.

Our two dogs, Fidget and Fifi, weren’t perfect and it’s fair to say they gave us some challenges. But they were also our ‘Princess Pups’ – they enriched our lives and we loved them dearly.

Fidget

Fidget

fifi

Fifi

When we lost them back in May, it hit us all hard. Small though they were, the hole they left was huge. Without going into too much detail, high winds brought down power cables into puddles left as a result of a nearby pool being drained. On a walk one morning, the pups reached the live puddles first….

Anyone who’s lost a pet knows how traumatic it can be. It didn’t help that we were all apart at the time – Steve and Emma in the UK for Em’s exams, and me at home alone. We all agreed we couldn’t even think about another dog, that we needed time to get used to being at home without ‘the girls’ bouncing around.

Then I saw the photograph on Facebook. ‘Dave’ was a young German Shepherd who was found by holidaymakers. He was in a bad way and only had the use of three legs due to a break in the fourth that had fused as it mended. He’d been living on the streets and, although they were looking after him, they were leaving in a few days. ‘Dave’ needed a home, somewhere he could rest and recuperate.

I felt torn. Part of me didn’t feel ready to take on another dog, but I kept returning to his picture, looking at his face. “Help me,” his eyes seemed to beg.

After a couple of days I mentioned it to Steve and we agreed we would take him in, albeit on a temporary basis. Two days later, we brought him home. He was quiet and unsure of himself, but so gentle and trusting. He didn’t know how to play and was unaccustomed to treats. He didn’t like having eye drops administered – he had an infection – but he didn’t make a fuss while we did it. He’d sit patiently outside the door waiting for food. He accepted a collar and lead, but a short walk up the lane was quite enough to tire him out.

That was three months ago. And now?

The new boy in our lives - darling Dillon.

The new boy in our lives – darling Dillon.

He’s enjoying two walks a day of 5-6km each, and half the time he’s up for more. He loves shoes and regularly steals them off the racks outside the front door – he doesn’t chew them, just hides them in his secret stash. His favourite game is ‘fetch’ with a squeaky rubber ball, though more often he runs off with it to do a victory lap of the garden. He’s started to use his bad leg to walk and play, and can even jump easily – if not gracefully – into the back of our Land Rover. He loves other dogs and people; he’s kind and friendly and has the sweetest temperament, as well as a cheeky, mischievous streak. Essentially, now he’s safe and cared for, his body can use its energy to recover, rather than just survive.

We’ve renamed him, as ‘Dave’ just didn’t seem to fit. He’s now ‘Dillon’ – or Dill. We always said we’d have a dog called Dill – and anyone who remembers The Herb Garden will recall he was Parsley’s best friend.

He’s carved out his own niche in our home and our hearts, so much so that we’ve decided to adopt him for good. We did wonder if we were doing the right thing – not because we don’t love him or aren’t certain we want him, but because, in our little backwater, he’s not popular with the villagers.

His breed, the way he looks, means he’s automatically regarded with fear and suspicion. The locals are convinced he’s a vicious killing machine that will decimate their flocks and probably rip out their children’s throats. Even though he’s always on a lead and barely gives livestock a passing glance as we go by, a couple of steps towards them has people almost leaping into the bushes to escape this fearsome menace.

We do worry, when we walk him, that he’ll sniff out poisoned meat and eat it without us noticing. Somebody could even come to our house when we leave him – though we don’t, very often – and feed it to him through the gate, or even shoot him. It happens, sadly.

But we’ve decided that we’re his best option and we’re delighted he’s going to be a permanent member of the family. The girls are forever in our hearts, but there’s space for him too.

It’s good to have a dog again.

It’s Been An Education

Today’s the day when GCSE results are announced. My social media feeds are full of congratulatory messages from parents and friends to their own and each other’s children, photographic evidence of grades, and excited updates about planned celebrations.
We’re still sitting here waiting to find out how Emma has got on. Because we can’t exactly pop down the road, we arranged for the exam centre to email us her results, and that won’t be until after 1pm UK time – so 3pm for us – when the office closes.
In hindsight, maybe we should have arranged for a friend to collect her results, but to be honest there’s a bit of me that says it doesn’t matter what happens anyway.
Emma already has four GCSEs under her belt (one taken at school before we left the UK and three, including English language, taken last year). She has pretty much educated herself for the past two years, and I couldn’t be prouder of her attitude.
Given her age and the language barrier, ripping her out of England and dropping her into the Turkish education system wasn’t really an option. So, instead, we decided to go the remote study route.
We signed up with an organisation in the UK, chose her courses, and off we went. She’s had an assigned tutor for each subject, who I have to say have varied wildly in terms of the quality and level of support they have provided.
Either way, though, Emma has had to be incredibly self-motivated and disciplined. We worked out a timetable together and helped where we could, of course, but ultimately we’re not teachers and we don’t have in-depth knowledge of anything outside our own specialisms.
She’s got on with it. She’s got her head down and ploughed on, and I really hope she believes me when I tell her that I am equally proud of her whether she gets As, Cs or Es. In all honesty, I don’t believe grades matter that much at this stage anyway; O levels, GCSEs, whatever they turn into next are really only a stepping-stone to the next level. I was pretty much a straight-A student, but nobody has asked me what I got in my exams since the year I took them.
Em has already been offered a sixth form place back at her old school in England, so we’ll be travelling back soon to settle her ahead of the new term. Whatever her academic qualifications end up being, she’s had two years of the most amazing experiences that will stand her in good stead when it comes to facing life’s challenges.
I can’t deny it will be hard to return to Turkey without her, and neither Steve nor I are looking forward to having an ’empty nest’….it’s a new beginning for us all.
Here’s to you, Emma. We’re so proud of the young lady you’ve become and wish you all the happiness in the world. Now go and check that email – it’s nearly 3pm.

Don’t Call Me Baby

Angry baby

I was sitting on a beach chatting the other day with friends who are not resident in Turkey but who visit regularly. Naturally, the conversation sometimes turns to the challenges we face living abroad and, although I can’t remember now which particular one I was addressing, I know I was elaborating on differences between life in Turkey and the UK.

Suddenly, in a pause, a compact, dark-haired lady sitting nearby interjected abruptly, asking: “So you live here?”

“Yes,” I replied, smiling, expecting the usual questions about what it’s like to reside in permanent sunny splendour, surrounded by beautiful scenery and such lovely people.

“How long for?” she added. And, suddenly, I knew what was coming.

“Just under two years now,” I said – and waited.

“Oh, well, you’re just a baby then…” And BOOOOM!  She was off, relating stories of her own about her 18 years in country and very deliberately putting me in my place as an inexperienced incomer.

I’m not sure why it happens but I think it’s maybe because, as a resident of a country where so many head for their annual holiday in the sun, you sometimes find yourself the subject of some fascination. After all, you are living their dream and they want to know what it’s like. Start talking about it, and you can soon find yourself the centre of attention. Personally, it’s not something I’m particularly comfortable with but I’ve come to realise that others crave it.

I’m by no means saying all ex-pats do, but some seem to believe their years in Turkey are a badge of honour which ought to be respected and they don’t want to see a relative newbie steal their thunder.

Usually I shrug inwardly and leave them to it. In the early days then yes; sometimes the interest from holidaymakers we’ve met was flattering. But now, if anyone asks about my life here, I try to keep my answers brief. It’s partly because I don’t want to stamp all over people’s dreams with tales of the reality; they don’t want to hear about freezing cold houses in winter, flaky internet, unreliable water and electricity supplies and life with no Cheddar cheese. But I’m also aware I’m still learning every day myself and one of those lessons is that there might be someone with more time under their belt than me lurking somewhere nearby ready to pounce – and sometimes, as on this occasion, I find it irksome.

I’ll happily listen to good advice and I recognise there are plenty of people who have lived here much longer and know far more than I do about the potential pitfalls. But being patronised always puts my teeth on edge and I found being called “just a baby” particularly presumptuous.

The thing is, although I may have only lived in Turkey for a couple of years, I have lived overseas before. My work has also taken me abroad many times, even to a couple of war zones. But this particular lady seemed determined to pigeon-hole me as a romantic fresh from the UK, still wearing rose-tinted glasses with nowhere near the experience necessary even to talk to tourists.

It’s by no means the first time it’s happened. If you live in Turkey, I suspect you’ll find as we have that there is often someone itching to tell you how little you know, how naïve you have been or how much better they have managed or adjusted to life here. The trick is working out which ones are worth listening to.

Of course I don’t have all the answers and probably never will. I’ll freely admit we’ve made some howlers and learned a few things along the way. But isn’t that what life is about? I certainly feel I’ve as much right as anyone to tell a few funny stories to anyone who shows an interest.

But do me a favour. If we meet and I ever describe you as “just a baby”, slap me. Okay?