Category Archives: General

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.

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

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.

‘Have you tried switching it off and switching it back on again?’

It was one of those perplexing incidents. We drove home after a trip to the market to stock up on fruit and veg, had a cuppa, and then Steve got on with the job of cleaning Lenny the Land Rover. The same as we’d done on countless other occasions. Lenny

Some time later, our trusty truck sparkled inside and out. His blue paint gleamed in the sun. Various oils had had been topped up. Tyre pressures had been checked. In short, he’d been subjected to the TLC most Parsley vehicles experience. (Administered by Steve, I should hasten to add. I only just about remember to fill up with fuel.)

When the time came to move Lenny back under his awning, however, he wouldn’t start. There was absolutely nothing there. The key turned but there were no lights on the dash, no response from the ignition, no noise from the engine. Lenny was as dead as Monty Python’s famous parrot, whereas a couple of hours previously he’d been rumbling along in his usual dependable way.

I’d done a quick Google search and told Steve it looked like an electrical fault, to be met with a withering glance that clearly said: “No shit, Sherlock?”

He knows a lot more about internal combustion engines than I do so I shut up and went back to playing Candy Crush, while he changed into his scruffs and spent a fruitless hour trying to track down the problem. He disconnected and reconnected wires, checked fuses and cleaned cables, all to no avail. Eventually he gave up – it was getting dark – so we opened a bottle of red and hoped the Land Rover Repair Pixies would visit overnight.

In the morning, when it became clear they’d failed to materialise, Steve messaged our friend Ersah. He’s the guy we bought Lenny from in the first place – incidentally, if you’re looking for a good jeep safari, check him out here – and within ten minutes he’d arranged for a mechanic to pop round.

Sezgin arrived and, after the necessary glass of çay, got to work. Steve was heartened to see him repeat most of the things he’d done himself the previous evening, although with no more luck. Then Sezgin noticed a sort of handle under the driver’s seat….

Turns out, Lenny has a master switch for use in emergencies. Who knew? And Steve must have knocked it by mistake in the heat of his car-cleaning frenzy. Twist it, and the whole vehicle cuts out and closes down. Twist it the other way, and we’re back in business. As if by magic.

So the Land Rover Repair Pixie does exist after all, and I now know what I believe is true – it’s never a good idea to get too carried away with a chamois leather and a bottle of AutoGlym….

“Do You Want To Phone A Friend …?”

Remember Chris Tarrant? I do … and let me explain why.

Genial and quick-witted, there was a time when it seemed Chris was everywhere. Radio shows, games, books and of course perhaps his most famous role as host of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. And that’s why he sometimes pops into my mind when I try to speak Turkish.

Why? Well, in the show, if you didn’t know the answer to any of the questions Chris fired at you, you had three “lifelines”. You could ask the audience, you could go 50/50 and eliminate some of the wrong ones or you could phone a friend. And, if I’m honest, I’ve done the equivalent of all three while trying to make myself understood in Turkish.

As an example, let’s use our attempt to buy some tempered glass for the wood-burner after the last sheet detonated rather dramatically in the middle of a family evening in front of the telly the other night.

We looked up “glass” “fire” and “wood-burner” and set off for the shop in Fethiye and, on arrival at  the workshop, found three guys in conversation, the middle one stopping to raise an inquiring eyebrow. We’ve done more than a year of Turkish lessons now and I had been reasonably confident we’d be able to say something like: “Hi, we need two sheets of tempered glass for a wood-burner.” Sadly, despite the preparation, nothing came out.

Try as I might, I just couldn’t marshal the words into a sentence quickly enough and, as I became increasingly aware of the long pause, I panicked. I pointed at some glass, I said the Turkish word for “fire” and hoped that was enough.

But no. The shopkeeper replied with some quick-fire Turkish and all I could do was look at him helplessly – and that’s usually where Chris Tarrant steps in.

“Do you want to use one of your lifelines?” he asked in my head, when actually, what I wanted to do was just make myself coherent. “Do you want to ask the audience?”

I looked hopefully at Bec. Nope. No help coming from there. The other two guys in the shop had wandered off and there was no chance of catching their eye either.

“Do you want to use your 50/50?” Chris was asking. I fumbled with my phone hoping the translation app was still open so I could show the shopkeeper the words we looked up earlier in the hope he could make sense of what we’re after from that. It wasn’t.

“Do you want to phone a friend?” inquired my imaginary Chris, although in the real world, it was actually Bec with her own mobile in her hand.

“Hmm?” I asked dazedly.

“Do you want me to call Bayram? He’ll be able to explain what we want …”

“Oh. Right. Yes. I suppose so.”

And minutes later there was a telephone conversation going on between the shopkeeper and our bilingual friend while I stood ashamed that, yet again, I couldn’t string a sentence together in Turkish – or at least not one that I was confident would make any sense.

After over a year of trying to learn a new language, I’m okay in the markets, bars and restaurants and I can even manage rudimentary car maintenance phrases after a series of issues with our Land Rover. But it’s when you enter a new scenario or when you’re dealing with officialdom that linguistic shortcomings become far more evident – and it can underline just how far you still have to go.

We’re fortunate to have a teacher with endless patience and a sense of humour too. Indeed, Bülent seems to find the stories I tell about how I’ve struggled this week quite amusing. But, then we’ll settle down to run through where I went wrong.

Besides, as Bülent points out, if we added up all the time we’ve spent in lessons together, it only comes to just over 100 hours, which is about three weeks if we worked on a nine-to-five basis. Is it really realistic to expect to be able to speak a new language fluently in such a short time? Probably not.

It’s true the effort you make to speak even rudimentary Turkish is appreciated by locals, and reciprocated in their smiles and even in the price you pay in the lokantas and at some of the market stalls. It is definitely worth the effort.

Nevertheless, I suspect it’s going to be a while before I’m free of Chris Tarrant.

images

Ode to the Defender

IMG_3417“Why have you bought this?”

“Because I like them and I’ve always wanted one of my own.”

“But you will die in this in the summer. It will be so hot inside.”

“I could just open a window.”

“But no Turkish person would buy this from you!”

“Good. I have no intention of selling it…”

“You’re mad. This will cost you money after money; you are going to be so embarrassed. Why not just buy a nice little Fiat..?”

And, if we’re honest, looking back, our neighbour Tommy wasn’t completely wrong. Our big, unashamedly blue Land Rover Defender 110 hasn’t proved to be completely reliable. So far, we’ve replaced the rocker gasket, the head gasket, the clutch (twice), glow plugs and air filter. We’ve never enjoyed the luxuries of power steering, turbo power, windscreen washers (front or rear) or any form of heating, save that which radiates from the engine compartment. If it rains – and it does frequently in the winter – you get wet, rivulets finding their way inside and dripping from the roof onto knees and down the back of collars.

Progress on hills is, let’s say, sedate and, until we tinkered with the fuel pump, often accompanied by clouds of black smoke. The transfer box likes to dribble a little oil on the drive occasionally just to keep you on your toes and, after a cold snap, the engine can steadfastly refuse to start and then, five minutes later, fire up on the first turn of the key. Physically demanding to drive, it is without doubt the most challenging car I’ve ever owned.

But, despite the garage bills, the deafening engine noise at anything above 40mph, and the distinct lack of mod cons, not once have I regretted buying it. Indeed, “Lenny”, as he has become known both to us and our friends, has developed a character and become one of the family in his own right.

Our house is at the end of an unsurfaced lane which is often submerged under water after heavy or prolonged rain. To say your “nice little Fiat” would struggle with the pot holes is something of an understatement. And neither would I be that keen on chucking wet dogs in the back of a tidy family saloon after walks in the hills. Indeed, many of those walks have only been discovered because we’re not confined to roads and can explore along the old goat tracks which criss-cross the mountains around our home.

We’ve foraged for firewood, rescued broken down cars, transported up to 10 passengers – all seated and belted – to family events, all without problems. In town, a Land Rover is big enough to intimidate most drivers considering cutting you up at the next junction or set of lights and it’s somehow reassuring to know, if anything did hit you, nine times out of ten, they’re the ones who are probably going to come off worst. He may be slow, but like any Land Rover, he was built to last and, despite claims to the contrary, I have actually had three offers to buy him in the past 12 months

It’s sad therefore to know that today is the day the last Land Rover Defender will roll off the production line. The ultimate off-road vehicle, which has become a British icon as distinctive as the Mini or the Rolls Royce, has had its time.

Personally, I find it somehow demoralising to read there just isn’t the will or desire within Jaguar Land Rover to overcome the issues with emissions or whatever which appear to have led to the marque’s demise but, from today, there will be no more new Defenders to become farm work horses or heading for off-road adventures all around the world. We have ours though and, even though I’ve no doubt at all there will be more flappy clutch pedals, steaming radiators, leaky gaskets and infuriating intermittent electrical faults, I still have no intention whatsoever of letting it go …

SP