Tag Archives: living abroad

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

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?

It’s Harder Than You Think To Do Favours For Sailors …

On more than one occasion since we moved to Turkey there have been occasions when we would have been totally lost without the intervention of our neighbours, Tommy and Mehmet, so when I heard there was a lot of work to do on their family boat over the winter, I was quick to offer my assistance and collection of power tools in return.

Used for tourist trips in the summer months, the Deniz Bey sails daily from the beach at Ölüdeniz, taking up to 30 people on trips along the spectacular Anatolian coast. However, every winter, the effects of wind, sun and sea need to be redressed – which means several weeks in dry dock for sanding, varnishing and painting.

Volunteering, I imagined a few afternoons plugged into iTunes, brandishing familiar equipment acquired from my dad or – often on impulse – from DIY superstores in the UK.  But despite admitted recent failings as a “proper man” in the eyes of the average Turk (Time To Man Up …) I’ll admit I was still a bit disappointed by the questioning looks that my offer inspired.

“Can you paint?” asked Mehmet.

“I think so,” I replied. “I have my own sanders and I did decorate quite a bit of our house in England myself.”

Perhaps it was the small smile from Bec – who has never quite forgotten the “Incident Of The Flooded Bathroom” back in 1995 – or maybe it was the absence of experience on boats, but Mehmet still looked doubtful.

Nevertheless, a few days ago, the call came: “Stiv? Is Mehmet. I work on boat while the weather is nice today. Can you help?”

“Of course,” I said. “I’ll get my tools out of the shed….”

“No need. I have tools. I come to get you.”

Half an hour later another new experience began. Unexpectedly, I found myself on the back of a scooter (without a helmet) being bounced savagely along a narrow mountain road en route to the boatyard in nearby Fethiye.

I’m a balding man of 53 but, nevertheless, on arrival what hair I have resembled a clown on a bad day. I also had to surreptitiously shake the cramp out of a leg before I could even begin to make my way to the dry docks.

Once there, I realised that, far from spending the day on nice, safe decks, I’d have to get used to the idea of working 20ft up on rickety planks, suspended between makeshift scaffolding mostly made up of elderly stepladders.

In short, it was hell. It takes a certain skill to wield a heavy-duty sander above your head when you have no handholds, a yawning drop beneath sucks at your heels and dust cakes the inside of your mouth and nose. I missed bits, which Mehmet had to point out before he could add a layer of varnish, and I must have been slow because there were plenty of times when he seemed to be watching and waiting.

Other boatyard workers passed beneath. There were shouted conversations with Mehmet, which seemed to end with looks in my direction and a little laughter. But, after what seemed like hours of torture which left my fingers tingling and shoulder muscles aching, it was time for a lunch-break.

It turned out even that was a challenge. If you’ve tried kokoreç then you’ll know what’s in it. If not, let’s just say I discovered sheep intestines are probably an acquired taste. Then it was back to several more hours of back-breaking work in the midst of a forest of masts and rigging, the shrill sounds of drills and sanders – and more Turkish banter.

The thing is, I loved it. I have spent most of my professional life in an office or at least in front of a keyboard, typing – but this was something completely different.

It was hard, yes. I was also aware of being a stranger in a tight-knit community which gathers in the boatyard every winter. But it was an experience – and one I have repeated more than once since.

A couple of weeks later, and now I get nods and handshakes. Indeed, the boatyard boss has shown me around and given me his card. It’s not like I’m ever going to be a professional – Turkish laws prevent that anyway – but it’s been fun helping out and should the Deniz Bey ever need me, I’d be happy to step up to the mark again.

Just don’t ask me to eat kokoreç though…

Mehmet on the boat

Mehmet ready to start work on board the Deniz Bey

Puppy Love

After an exploratory shopping expedition to Fethiye the other day, Bec and I returned home to discover we had a new member of the family.

Apparently, our landlord was a little worried our daughter Emma would be missing her friends from England and might be a little lonely, so he’d popped round with a puppy – a delightful little ball of chocolate and coffee-coloured fur.

To her credit, Em had already half-demurred, suspecting we’d go all practical on our return and – albeit reluctantly – decline the gift.

But the look in her eyes, to say nothing of the unspeakable cuteness of this apparent and unlikely mix of sausage dog and Doberman, was enough to melt our hearts.

With only a perfunctory attempt at sensible debate, we’d agreed the puppy could stay and our smiling landlord returned to his truck, waving like a benevolent granddad as his red pick-up rolled down the drive and out through the gates.

But, as the dust settled, suddenly we were transported back to the day we returned home with our first-born; we hadn’t a clue what we were supposed to do next.

Where would it sleep? What do you feed it? Do we have any toys? What the hell are the cats going to think? But, most importantly, how do you prevent a weeing and poohing machine from littering the house with unpleasant surprises?

Neighbour Tommy’s advice was as you might expect from a culture which seems to struggle to comprehend the English sentimentality for pets.

“Leave it on balcony with water and food. It be fine,” he said, resorting to a resigned “You English …” when we explained there was no way we’d leave her outside.

An hour on the internet and some advice from dog-owning friends on Facebook put us on the right track – followed by another expedition on the bus to the pet shop in Fethiye, which left us about £120 worse off.

The last few days have been a bit of a blur, fitting work, home chores and friends around the new addition to the family. In fact, I suppose it’s true to say our life here in Turkey has taken a lurch in an unexpected direction as we’re now a little less free to do as we please.

But, as Fidget (that’s what we decided to call her) lies in her basket at my feet as I type, woofing softly in her sleep, I can’t say I’m sorry.

The priest who married Bec and I told us, when it came to having kids, there wasn’t really a “right time”. Maybe it’s the same with dogs…

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Fidget – the latest addition to the family