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, 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!


Saturday, 6 April 2013

The ongoing tradition of Midnight Express!

This week I downloaded the Oscar winning film Argo, Yes I do know downloading films is immoral and technically stealing  However I once paid 20 pounds for me and a girlfriend to watch the painfully awful "blockbuster" Waterworld, so Hollywood was in my debt!

For those that do not know Argo, it tells the story of how six Americans were smuggled out of Iran after the 1979 Islamic revolution. The pretense "Based on a true story" is tagged at the beginning of the film, which always sets the alarm bells ringing. My suspicions were confirmed after watching the film. The tag line should have read " Based on a true story, where some people have been added, characters changed, the true story deviates at nearly every scene and the Americans will come out as heroes .” Remember the film U-571, the thrilling story where the Americans captured the enigma coding machine? - actually it was the British and the Polish forces!. Who can forget "Saving Private Ryan", where effectively it is presented that the D-Day landings in Normandy were a solely American affair. Well, Argo doesn't let you down and continues in that wonderful Hollywood tradition history of re-writing history.

Argo Trailer
As the six Americans go on the run around Tehran looking for a safe house to escape the hoards of Iranian revolutionaries, the film cuts to a CIA office in the Pentagon and the line " Brits turned them away" is thrown to the audience. With that line you can hear the popcorn eating, Pepsi swigging movie going public of the USA thinking as one " Those damn Brits after all we did for them in the Second World War"

The truth of course is very different, as back in 1979, British diplomats put their life's in immense danger assisting the six to a safe house in a British compound. As the CIA officer Antonio Mendez, who helped to mount the eventual rescue, recalls in his book, Argo: ‘The British were kind hosts, and offered them a house of their own, fed them a warm meal, even prepared cocktails.’ Slightly different then from “the Brits turned them away”!  Why should we care though, it's just a film! Well a film now, but the worrying fact is that in later years it is not beyond the realms of probability that it will be  considered by students as the definitive history of the events .

As the credits rolled I was amazed to observe that parts of the movie were filmed in Turkey. Amazed because if any country knows the dangers of falsifying true fact for Hollywood's financial gain then it is the beautiful country I reside in now!

Way back in 1978 another Oscar winning film was taking the world by storm. Midnight Express was another Hollywood “Based on a true story” epic that grossed 35 million dollars in the USA alone! The film based on the autobiographic  book of the same name, follows the story of Billy Hayes. Hayes, an American, was imprisoned in Turkey in 1970 whilst attempting to smuggle two kilos of hashish through Turkish customs. Sentenced firstly to four years his sentenced is then raised to thirty years on appeal by the Turkish prosecution department. After five years, whilst imprisoned on an island prison, Hayes escapes by boat and makes it to Greece!

The wording in the trailer speaks volumes
Any foreigner that resides in Turkey or any foreigner that has stepped foot on Turkish soil on holiday or business would no doubt have been teased “ Wouldn’t go to Turkey – I saw Midnight Express” usually followed with a snigger and a sharp intake of breath! The reason for this is that Midnight Express is not so much a film but a full blown cultural assignation of a whole nation!. Turks are depicted as violent, immoral, venal, psychopathic and debased. It's understandable to portray violent, dangerous criminals in such an unflattering light, but the film extended this negative ethos to the judiciary, the courts and civil servants and any Turk within the films grasp. Indeed, Midnight Express appeared to indict the entire Turkish nation as hopelessly corrupt, grotesque and “evil. Hollywood has long used certain ethnic group as “villains” – depending upon current events and political trends, Arabs, Mexicans, American-Indians, Germans and Japanese, among others, have fulfilled this role (usually by actors whose own ethnicity did not match the parts they played). However none had as much affect on a nation as Midnight Express had on the Turkish Republic.

Now, one would have to be hopelessly naïve to suggest that the Turkish judiciary system was perfect then or even now come to that or that the Turkish prison system is or was a bed of roses. Which prison service is?. However, the story “based on a true story” sets out , without any fear of libel, to eradicate any positive feeling the world may have had at that time. Although after the 1974 Turkish invasion or peace force, depending which side of the fence you face, the World did not look at Turkey favorably . In fact, in 1978 America issued an arms embargo on Turkey. With this in mind, maybe this is why the director Alan Parker and David Putnam the producer , held no qualms in showing Turkey in this grotesque way.

If the film crawled in 35 million dollars in the USA, I would consider that a drop in the ocean to the financial loss in tourism over the years due to the portrayal of  Turkey in the film. In 1980, the Turkish tourism industry reported a drop of 90% in American tourist visiting the Turkish republic. That’s a lot of dollars!. One can only guess at how many dollars have been lost by companies choosing to not invest in that “ evil” country ! The affect though is not just financial, Turkish citizens the world over were painted with the “Midnight” brush – not to be trusted and uneducated! The xenophobic nature of the film, shows Turks as inhospitable uncaring people who would cheat on their own Grandmother to gain an advantage. For those of us that has enjoyed Turkish hospitality it is a sad and disgusting insult!

However, what about the man at the center of all this, Billy Hayes.  Hayes, was just twenty two years old in 1970, a real live Billy the Kid. Young, naïve and immensely stupid. In those illiberal days of 1970, hashish was still seen as a highly dangerous drug and guaranteed to ruin societies if it was allowed to escalate. No more so than in Turkey, although a politically secular country it still held strong Islamic views . One can only question Hayes’s thought process to think he could smuggle two kilograms of drugs through Turkish customs and if caught to only gain a light sentence . He only needed to check his own country, where sentences of 15-20 years imprisonment were common back in the early 70’s for the very offence he committed.

After the films release then a new Billy emerged – Billy the Hero!. After the twisted morality of Midnight Express was screened, Hayes, the American drug smuggler. became a kind of “noble hero” held up having survived against the violence and corruption of the Turks or any society that didn’t fit into American foreign policy at the time . Harping back to Argo, is it just a coincidence that a film that portrays Iranians in such a negative way is released at a time when American / Iranian relations is at such a low ebb?.

After the release, Hayes became the darling of the talk shows, wheeled around the studios of the USA, on display as the man who went through hell and survived. The fact that he attempted to smuggle two kilograms of drugs was secondary to the tales of survival from that hideous place! Billy Hayes is not so much a person these days as a company. The estimated book sales of the original book run into the millions. Further added with the release last year of “Midnight return” As I type this Mr Hayes is in my own country, touring the WH Smiths and Waterstones churning out the endless tales, all based on lies. Incredibly, also touring the UK now is, I kidded you not, “ Midnight Express – The ballet”! The old adage “Crime doesn’t pay” obviously doesn’t extend to Mr Hayes, where crime and falsehoods pay well, very well!


The last Billy though, could well be named after the classic Keith Waterhouse book -  Billy Liar!. After the storm that Midnight Express caused had died down and probably after the cash from his book and film rights had started to wane, Hayes went on a campaign of “ I am disgusted at how the film portrayed Turkey”!. At this stage of his ongoing drama, he decided that he was in anguish at how the Turkish Republic and it’s citizens had been shown.  Full of remorse at how Parker’s movie had dehumanized Turks and a Turkey he now claimed he loved so much and how it was his wish to return and see the beautiful city of Istanbul again. Now, as Mr Hayes held the film rights wouldn’t it be slightly odd, if he never read the film script before a single shot was taken in Malta, where the film was shot, with Italian, Maltese and Greek actors with such awful Turkish that even Turks had trouble understanding them.

With this new direction of humility again Mr. Hayes sat his bottom on TV and radio talk shows across the Good ‘ol USA. Paid of course one would guess!  In a recent online interview (here) for National Geographic to promote his “The real Midnight Express” he was asked the question. “Do you have any regrets?”. The regret of before of his damage to the Turkish Republic seems to have disappeared and no mention is made of it at all. The remorse card obviously worked with Turkey, who invited Billy Hayes back to the Turkish republic in 2007 on a seven day visa. The Turks in doing this showed more restraint than most other nations on an individual that had caused so much racialist contamination on Turkey and it’s culture!. It’s with great irony that after Billy Hayes returned to the USA he directed a play entitled “ The cock and bull story”!

Hollywood films have a terrible and engaging power to influence and shape our minds even on those that regard ourselves as perceptive. Midnight Express made a lot of money for a lot of people and as with Billy Hayes it continues to do so. Ultimately that is all Hollywood really cares about. It feeds, the minds of the gullible in as a dramatic way possible. Doing so in a country that prides itself on fairness of mind and respect for others.  However as film-goers and consumers, we should realize that movies are highly biased and often designed to manipulate the audience. Movies like Midnight Express, especially those which are as well made and entertaining, can not only be harmful but most of all push us to hate nations and the people of those nations. As I guess is the case now with Argo and Iran and it’s people. Sad, very sad!


Friday, 5 April 2013

The department of disasters!

Saturday evening is my time!. My dear wife is on duty so I have the whole apartment to myself to put on my jogging pants and best warm sweater with my feet up. The remote control is mine. A nice scotch waits patiently in the bottle ready to be poured. A nice chili con carne has been already prepared the night before just waiting to be heated. Then I go into slob mode, eating crisp and dry pastries and the world is a wonderful place again after a long week. Bliss, perfect bliss!

There is sometimes a spanner in the works though. A spanner that goes by the name of TEDAŞ. To give it its full name translated, “The Turkish Electric Distribution Company.” I prefer to use the abbreviation TEDAS as to mean "The Electric Doesn't Always Satisfy!". So inept are they at “distributing” electric that If they ever made a film about the practices of TEDAS, then it would start with the words “ Carry on…… “! I am also sure that if I ever met the top man in charge at TEDAŞ, he would have a big read nose that would go “beep beep” when squeezed.

The Head of TEDAS takes another complaint

Now, please don”t get me wrong here and think I am being anti-Turkish public services. I can happily say that the phone company supply me with a decent and not expensive service. My internet provider serves me with an excellent service at a very reasonable price. My mobile phone company for the most part has never let me down. The water company serve…ok maybe let”s leave the water company for another time! However, TEDAŞ infamously supply the most expensive electric in Europe with arguably the worst service.
Take for example, a few weeks back. There I was on my “slob” night. A night where it was definitely a night to be home as a winter storm slammed against my window. I happily relaxed, feet up, happy as a porker in poo! The patient scotch had been poured and was now shaking hands with the chili that had been happily consumed a short time before. In short I was in a happy place! Evil minds at TEDAS  decided I was far too happy though and it was time to have some fun at my expense.

Manchester United were on the TV and on the attack, battling for another win as I sat on the edge of my seat. Then it happened! The instant sound of all the electrical appliances having their life support machine cut off and myself being confronted by instant blindness!. The first reaction is to wait, my optimist mind communicates “ok don’t panic it will come back after a minute”. I pull back the curtains behind me and check out the window. The whole neighborhood is in total darkness and with the moon obliterated by the storm clouds it was blacker than a miner’s armpit!

A minute passes, in total silence and in total darkness. Candles are needed. I used to have a sense of where the candles were kept in my home. However with every one of my wife”s cleanups they are moved to an even more obscure place. I need to call her and ask her where she has hidden them this time. With the house phone being connected to the now defunct electricity supply, I open my mobile phone and enjoy the light it dispenses but do not enjoy the fact it is now nearly empty of charge!. I locate my normally sane and sensible wife”s number and call:

Me: Askim, where is the candle?

Wife: What kindle?

Me: No, not kindle, candle!

Wife: When did you buy a kindle?

Me: NO!, Listen. not kindle, Candle, I don”t have a kindle! I need a Candle the electric has gone!
Wife: Whose kindle askim ya?

Me: No ones Kindle, candle!

Wife: Kindle , Kindle. what”s a kindle kindle?

Me:No. CANDLE NOT KINDLE!….. Oh Bloody hell..wait!

I quickly open the Turkish dictionary application on my phone and read

(n) Mum

Me: Askim, listen carefully , where is the Mum?

Wife: Whose Mum askim?

Me: Our Mum, our candle.!!

Wife: Your Mum is in Engl……

Me: NOOOO, LISTEN. I beg you askim , The electric has gone and I need a candle, Turkish MUM!

Wife: Oh , sorry askim I understand now!

Me: Thank Christ for that!

Wife: You want to buy my Mum a kindle

Me: Askim, Listen please carefully before suicide becomes a feasible option!. I need a mum..understand.. M.U.M..MUM!

Wife: Askim, have you been drinking raki again?…I told you not to drink it again after you embarrassed us at Ahmet”s sunnet party..

Me: OH for fu……….

My cursed sentence is cut off and I am again thrown into Stevie Wonder land as the charge on my phone empties. I sit and now an even bigger problem is setting in. I have a condition that few actually know about . I suffer from DCS or Directionally Challenged Syndrome and have to guide my way round anywhere by using objects as markers!. When driving, for example, I use markers like “ I have to turn right at the red house with a thatched roof” – even if I have made the same journey every day for  years. If someone knocked down the red house one night I would be driving around for days like a lost pensioner on the M25!. Now, in total darkness, I know I am in the living room but where the door out is I have no idea. I am basically a blind ship without a rudder!  I am for all tense and purposes HMS Stevie Wonder!

“Wait it out Mike, wait it out” I say loudly to myself. I need light though, the darkness is freaking me. My laptop is in the bedroom but I have no sense how to locate the bedroom never mind the laptop and the light it will bestow on me! I give it a try though. I gingerly stand staring into dark and utter oblivion, forgetting the tray that was on my lap with the remnants of the chili. The remnants are now smashing below me on what I suspect is the wife”s new oak coffee table!. My first step forward confirms my suspicion as a sharp injection of broken porcelain spikes into my toe sending painful shockwaves up my foot and is followed by a piercing scream. I fall forward.  The aforementioned coffee table breaking my swift descent, well breaking my stomach’s fall as my head lands on the carpet beyond it! 

Stunned, I lay there in a pool from my now emptied whisky glass that is being soaked up into the white stainless carpet. It’s the wetness around my foot that distresses me though, I place my other foot next to my now throbbing toe, it’s wet, it’s sticky, it’s warmish…it’s blood!

I am now in a total daze, totally lost and bewildered in my own environment, totally in darkness and laying there in a disfigured form. I am now convinced that when TEDAS supplied the wiring in our apartment they have installed hidden cameras with night sight vision. Convinced that somewhere in a TEDAS office in Antalya some guy called Cem or Mustafa is shouting “ Hey, lads, come and look what I have just made this English bloke do”

The worriment I am in though is about to get worse. I need the toilet!. Chili con carne and Bells whiskey, my stomach has decided is not to it’s liking and wants to eject it as soon as possible. The toilet, how do I get to it!. Now, my mind is racing in panic as my stomach screams “ you jerk, you have just done the culinary equivalent of putting diesel into a petroleum engine..get it out now!”

I roll my stomach of the coffee table and it lands with a thud, not appreciated by my stomach which responds by gurgling like a bucket of hot tar. I feel around me, the square hard shape forming in my hands tells me that is the leg from the coffee table. My stomach is now cramping with pain . I need the toilet and quick. A plan is formed!. Remembering a documentary about fireman going into a smoke filled home. They used a rope as a guide and tied it to the back of the fire engine!. The coffee table leg will be my fire engine!. I need rope, cotton, fishing line in fact anything I can tie to the coffee table leg. I remove my sweater and remembering my boy scout days expertly tie one arm of the sweater around the leg. I guide my hands along the now outstretched jumper all the way to the other arm, sliding my now begging posterior along the floor. My stomach lets out a roar as and my bowels have put up a “coming soon” poster on the outside! Things are getting desperate now, my outstretched sweater is not enough! I remove my jogging pants and attach one leg of them to the now outstretched arm of my jumper. It works perfectly as I slide my hands along the jeans to the end, and my bottom even further outwards along the floor. The darkness is so disorientating , however with my hands now at the end of my jeans, that are in turn attached to an arm of my jumper  which in turn is tied to a coffee table leg, I feel further outwards. My bowels yelling “are we there yet idiot?”.. I slide in an arch around the room, my backside now numb, but wait! what is this?’s hard, it’s wood, I tap on it..yes, it’s the door. I pull it towards me, stupidly forgetting my head is in its path as it slams into my nose!

No time to worry about my nose and the blood that is now trickling down my face as my bowels are pleading for the eject button!. I slide into what I guess is the hallway but have come to the end of my lifeline of sweater and jogging pants. I have to let go of my lifeline and propel myself and my bottom forward. Sweat is now rolling down my face mixing in with the blood from my nose. I am like a man in a desert crawling along the sand in search of salvation. Something is hard in front of me, I knock on it another door, oh thank God the bathroom door. I push it hard, only to be rained on by ornaments followed by a pot plant given by my mother in law that strikes my face at speed. It all suggests that I come across the hallway side cupboard. Good news though, the cupboard is a marker and I know that the toilet door is to the left of it. I slide my now, numb and pleading posterior leftwards and reach out. The floor is cold and hard. The tiled floor of the bathroom! I have made it. Skimming my vertical body along the floor, my whole body numb now and my bowels screeching in pain. My throbbing blood dripping head touches something hard, I glide my hands upwards. It’s the toilet, I have made it.

Within a split second, I am perched on top of it and my bowels are emptying faster then the speed of light. I relax , my backside numb but in gentle relief. In total and utter blackness I am content, TEDAS tried but they couldn’t defeat me!. It seemed as a mark of respectful defeat TEDAS decided to turn the electrical supply back on. “At last” I whispered to myself as I sat facing the toilet with its seat open. My eyes blinking furiously in the now blinding light!. TEDAS had not finished though, they were toying with me and after three seconds of perfect light they turned off the supply once again. Now, in horror films, they always use lightening as a form of light to show you of the horror that lays before you, and that is what TEDAS had done to me. As the electric went again, my mind raced, why is the toilet in front of me? What is in front of the toilet?. What am I sat on? What has my bowels been emptied into?. The answer came as I felt below me, feeling more cloth and material…I was sat on the washing basket!

In the dark such an easy mistake
I can hear and feel Cem or whoever in an office now looking at their screen with all of TEDAS crowded round, howling at my predicament. I cared no more, my will for survival had finished. The exertion of the last hour had drained me of every ounce of strength that lay inside me. My nose, my toe, my dignity were in pain. Once again TEDAS had lifted me from my calm happy existence and dropped me literally in the poo!. I fell back down to the tiles and crawled aimlessly to anywhere I could find comfort and liberation from this fall from electrical grace!


The early morning call from the sparrow like birds outside awaken me from my enforced TEDAS sleep. My eyes open languidly. I am staring at an upside down plant pot that has discarded it’s load within eye distance. With mind slowly focusing on the previous evenings events I raise my now aching strained body vertically. I am in the hallway surrounded by the trinkets that the hallways cupboard had rained on me the night before. Like a man, walking into the aftermath of a storm I stand and see myself in the hallway mirror, a canal of congealed blood engrained in pot plant soil running from my nostril to my chin. The memories of the night before come flooding back as I slumber to the living room. It’s carnage!. Cloths, broken porcelain, broken glass, dry food and a trail of blood litter all around. A murder scene basically with it’s body still alive and now in total panic because my wife will be home at 9.30am. I check my watch 6.50am!!..A wife also with a condition – OCD – Obsessive Cleaning Disorder! 

The next few hours are a blur, as I scrub. sweep. clean,polish, wash, tidy anything that the previous nights TEDAS storm had thrown at me. Like a murderer cleaning all evidence from the scene of his crime. 9.15am, I peruse all around me, it’s looking ok..I think I have done it, ok the blood was a problem but bleach is a wonderful thing. As long as my wife hasn’t obtained infra-red vision in the last 24 hours I think I will be ok. I dive for the shower, skidding on the now polished clean tiles!. Quickly scrubbing the blood and sweat and soil  from my distressed and TEDAS abused body!

9.29am – Drying off in the bedroom that was unlocatable the night before, I hear the sound of the lift outside the front door jerking to a halt. My heart is beating as the sound of locks being released by keys confirms my suspicions. She is home! The door opens as I step out into the now spotless hallway, a towel hiding my modesty as a nonchantly dry my hair with another whilst greeting her. “Askim, I missed you ya” she hugs me . I smile and  reply likewise. She starts to lecture me about drinking raki and calling her when she is busy at work!. I let it pass!. I follow her into the living room, heart racing in the hope she doesn’t spot anything.

Nothing –she lays her keys on the coffee table as I fall onto the sofa in nervous fear!. “MIKE”…she says in a loud voice. I wait for what she has discovered, the games up. I know it as she turns to me looks all around and delivers “You cleaned up also, thank you askim, you are wonderful”. “well, I didn’t want you coming home to a messy home” I reply with a loving smile.  She hugs me again and ask if I can make her coffee whilst she showers . “no problem, go askim”. She exits through the door that had tortured my nose the night before. I sit, smiling hands in my face laughing inside at the craziness of the night before , the manic cleaning operation that had happened in the early morning, it had worked! I was in the clear! My wife was home, the sun was shinning, the home was cleaned and the electricity was working – the world was back to being a happy place!

I stood and went to the kitchen , filled the kettle with water, slipped the on button into position, still smiling . As I turned to go through the door a sound that can only be akin to wailing woman in distress and pain burst from the bathroom!